Taking On Athletic Challenges as an Adult

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We hear about the health benefits of physical activity and exercise every day. With it, you can improve cardiovascular function, decrease blood pressure levels, decrease insulin resistance, reduce body fat, increase muscle mass and strengthen bones. The American College of Sports Medicine’s position statement on exercise and the older adult asserts that the benefits of regular exercise contribute to a healthier, more independent lifestyle as we age. Adding exercise into your life gives you the opportunity to make new friends, challenge yourself, and enjoy new experiences.

So why are we still sitting on the couch?

Often we develop a case of the “toos”:

  • I’m too old to try a new type of physical activity.
  • I’m too overweight to go to the gym or walk or run outdoors.
  • I’m too busy with work, kids, family, volunteering, and/or social engagements.
  • I’m too tired at the end of the day to get off the couch and I’m too tired to get up earlier in the morning.
  • I’m too out-of-shape to do any type of physical activity.

We could go on and on and bury ourselves in all of the reasons why we can’t challenge ourselves with physical activity.

Or we could stop listening to the excuses and embrace the positives, following the example of people like:

  • Ernie Andrus, who was 90 years old when he started his 3-year goal to run across the United States, raising money to restore a WW II era naval landing ship. He’ll be 93 years old when he finishes his trip this summer.
  • Mirna Valerio, who was profiled in Runner’s World magazine as an ultramarathoner and trailrunner who just happens to be 5’7” tall and weigh 250 pounds. She doesn’t let her weight stop her from challenging herself and enjoying running.
  • Ella Mae Colbert, who broke the world record for a 100-year-old woman in the 100-meter dash earlier this year. She fell on her first try, got up and started again.
  • 72-year old Maggie, a member of my running group who stays after our 6am workout to do sprint intervals, finished her first half-marathon in January 2016 and had so much fun that she’s completed 2 more and is training forher fourth. She started running two years ago because she didn’t want her children and grandchildren to have all the fun.

Instead of letting the “I can’t because I’m too” build up, turn your thoughts onto the possibilities:

As we get older, our kids require less of our time, opening up new opportunities for us to go from being a bystander at our kids’ sporting events to doing something athletic ourselves. Join a Zumba class, go for a hike, get your bike out of the garage and go for a ride, or ask a co-worker to walk with you at lunch.

Embrace social media as a way to join a group in an athletic challenge and receive enthusiastic support from like-minded people all over the world. Google “fitness challenge” and you’re taking the first step to an active lifestyle.

Exercise for a cause that's near and dear to your heart, such as Team in Training, a fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In this program, participants raise money and train with experienced coaches within a group to complete a cycling event, half-marathon, marathon, hiking event, or triathlon.

You can also use one of the many couch-to-5K programs offered around the country to gradually extend your walking/running endurance to 3.1 miles. Then sign up for a 5K race in your area and meet many other people your age, weight, and fitness level who are having fun challenging themselves. Wear the race t-shirt proudly to show your accomplishment!

Many businesses hold periodic athletic challenges for their employees. Or you could start your own athletic challenge group at work, church, in your neighborhood, or within your volunteer group. Set a goal to accumulate miles to walk across your state, or hike the Appalachian Trail, or bike Route 66.

The National Council on Aging has an online list of exercise programs geared toward seniors at https://www.ncoa.org/center-for-healthy-aging/physical-activity/physical-activity-programs-for-older-adults/.

Silver Sneakers has over 13,000 locations nationwide that offer senior exercise programs for the 1 out of 5 people age 65 and older who are a group retiree or part of a Medicare health plan.

John “The Penguin” Bingham, a beloved columnist and advocate of running for everyone -- at whatever speed, no matter how slowly -- states in his book Marathoning for Mortals:  “…what stops most of us from achieving our dreams – as athletes and as people – are the confines of our imagination. As long as we restrict ourselves by our imaginations, we forever bind ourselves to our past and blind ourselves to our future.”

Take that first step off the couch, and you won’t regret it!

By Lynn Grieger RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC


  1. American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and the Older Adult. https://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/exerciseandtheolderadult.pdf   accessed 7-24-16.
  2. Coast2Coast Runs, Ernie Andrus  http://coast2coastruns.com/  accessed 7-23-16
  3. Runner’s World. Ultra. http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/ultra published 7-15-2015, accessed 7-25-16
  4. Sports Illustrated. 100-Year-Old Woman Breaks 100 Meter Dash World Record. http://olympics.si.com/olympics/2016/05/18/100-year-old-woman-breaks-100-meter-dash-world-record-ida-keeling-ella-mae-colbert posted 5-18-1016. Accessed 7-23-16
  5. Marathoning for Mortals. John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield. Rodale. 2003
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