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The Nonagenarian Athlete Olga Kotelko-Proving age can be just a number.

Updated on September 23, 2013

Imagine yourself at age 91; are you throwing a Javelin or doing a Hammer Throw? Defining the description of Aging with Vigor is the 91 year old Canadian athlete, Olga Kotelko. How does someone her age continue to compete in the World Outdoor Masters Track Championships? Generally age takes a toll on the body like clockwork, we start loosing wind in our 40's and muscle tone in our 50's, with a continued physical downslide as we age. We do try to keep in shape, eat right, and get enough sleep to keep our bodies moving and to stay independent. So is it genetics or lifestyle for people like Olga, to enjoy continued physical strength in their 90s?

But Olga Kotelko, along with defies the common course of aging and doctors and researchers are curious why. With older people, 85 and over, being the fastest growing group in society, why do some have incredible longevity ? With that longevity comes a quality of life along with the wisdom and grace older people possess. Olga Kotelko, a world record holder of 23 titles, seems to defy the aging process. What is her secret or the reason behind her good health and continued athletic power well into her 90's?

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Olga's Early Life

Olga, with parents of Ukrainian descent, grew up on a farm in Vonda, Saskatchewan, the 7th of 11 children. Each day after the chickens and pigs were fed, and the cows milked, all 11 kids walked two miles to school. There they would also play softball. Olga loved the game and played throughout her childhood, walking several miles to compete with other schools. As an adult however, her physical activity slowed down. She became a teacher of grades 1 through 10 in a one-room schoolhouse and got married and had children. After moving to British Columbia, now single, she raised two daughters while attending night school to get her Bachelor's degree. With everything on her plate, much of her adulthood was spent without being involved in any kinds of sports.

After retiring she started to play softball again, slow-pitch and very competitive. One day, at the age of 77, she was encouraged to try track and field. She found a coach who taught her the basics, then a trainer who pushed her as hard as she wanted to be pushed. Enthusiastically Olga trained at the gym hard, three days a week during the season, for three hours at a time, difficult exercises like planks and roman chairs, bench presses, and squats. She kept going until her muscles said no more. From all this hard work Olga was able to achieve amazing results in track and field competition, which continues to this day.

An Amazing Athlete to watch

I have to keep remembering this woman is in her 90s, as she competes in track and field events.  She has thrown the Javelin 41 feet, 20 feet farther than her nearest age group rival.  She has competed in the Hammer Throw, swinging the seven-pound cannonball around her head at least 3 times, releases it, and the cannonball lands 45.5 feet away. Her time on the track, 100 meters, is 23.95 seconds, faster than some of the finalists in the 80-84 age group bracket. 

Olga's Lifestyle-A reason for Longevity?

Olga still does 30 push-ups and 75 sit-ups daily and during the winter, Aquafit classes three times a week. When spring arrives, she begins training.  Olga takes her gear to the highschool track. Using a spade, she creates her own long-jump pits. On the track she runs in intervals, slow for 1 minutes, then fast for another. Olga trains on what she feels needs strengthening. One world record she is missing is the 100-meter dash, so she puts her energy into training for that, although she says she won't be running it until 2014, in the +95 age group. In the evenings, she performs deep breathing exercises and reflexology and has a self-developed massage program while lying in bed. This involves kneading her entire body, often working on one part while stretching another with a looped strap. 

Olga herself gives total credit for her good health to growing up on a farm, eating wholesome organic food, and the amount of physical activity because of her chores, walking to school, and athletics during school.

Experts on aging are studying Olga to try to discover her body's secret. Thoughts are that her body has a resistance to the aging process, her bone density is actually improving as she ages, with an impressive retention of muscle. Finding out the reasons for this might give researchers insight into how to stall the natural process of aging.

Regular Exercise Helps Give a Quality and Possibly Longevity to Life

People 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population and are being studied for clues to longevity. Is it the foods they east, the air they breathe, or is the reason behind it their genomes. Studies on younger people involve looking at faulty mitochondria, our bodies power cells. When mitochondrial disease is involved, endurance, strength, and function lessen. However, exercise is one tool used and has been showed to slow the symptoms. For this reason, exercise can be thought of as the reason for a slowing in the aging process.

It is known that exercise adds between six and seven years to a life span, improving the quality of life also). It is recommended for everyone to incorporate a regular exercise routine into their lives. For most senior citizens this routine would include aquafit classes or a daily walk; however, now researchers are beginning to think intense training might allow the body to regenerate itself.

A study was done with middle-aged runners, showing that the miles of running they did protected them on a chromosomal level. The science behind this is exercise might stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme that keeps and repairs little caps on the ends of the chromosomes, keeping genetic information intact when cells divide. If the genetic information stays intact, the normal breakdown, which happens in older adults resulting in age related physical slowdown and ill health, won't occur.

Exercise in seniors stimulates the production of antioxidants, boosting the body's health. Keeping a regular exercise routine helps keep muscle strength and endurance at top levels. One form of exercise, resistance, seems to activate a muscle stem cell, called a satellite cell. The addition of these new cells triggers the mitochondria into a rebirth. In short, exercise seems to be rolling back the clocks in a cellular nature, regrowth and stimulation of cells necessary for the body to keep moving easily. One study showed, after 6 months of twice weekly strength exercise training, the physical condition of older muscles were turned back nearly 15 to 20 years.


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