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91-Year-Old Arizona Man Sy Perlis Breaks Weightlifting Record


Story at-a-glance -

  • Sy Perlis, 91, recently broke a nearly decade-old World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record in the 90-and-over age division
  • Perlis didn’t begin weightlifting until he was 60 years old, and he entered his first competition when he was in his mid-80s
  • Regular exercise, even initiated late in life, offers profound health benefits including chronic disease prevention, boosts to muscle mass and even protection against memory loss
  • Age is not an impediment to staying physically active. If anything, the older you are the more important regular exercise becomes

By Dr. Mercola

Sy Perlis already holds titles as the 2009 state weightlifting champ and the 2010 and 2011 world champ in the 181-pound weight category in the World Association of Benchers and Dead Lifters.

But earlier this month he accomplished an even bigger feat: when he lifted a 187.2-pound weight, he broke the world record of 135 pounds, which had been in place since 2005. It’s a remarkable victory for any athlete, but what makes this story particularly noteworthy is the fact that Perlis is 91 years old.

91-Year-Old Breaks World Weightlifting Record...

Sy broke a nearly decade-old World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters record in the 90-and-over age division. What makes this especially extraordinary is that he didn’t begin weightlifting until he was 60 years old. And he entered his first competition when he was in his mid-80s.

Unfortunately, increasing physical frailty as you age is commonly accepted as "a fact of life," and this preconceived notion often spurs people (either consciously or subconsciously) to slow down and stop exercising as they get older. But age is not an impediment to staying physically active! If anything, the older you are the more important regular exercise becomes.

While Sy Perlis’ case is certainly not the norm, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. Most of us won’t be breaking word records in our 90s, but we can all strive to stay physically fit. In fact, more and more people are achieving stunning physical accomplishments in their "golden" years. Most of you are probably familiar with Jack LaLanne, who was the picture of fitness well into his 90s, but he is but one example. Others include:

  • Tao Porchon-Lynch, who is winning ballroom dance competitions and teaches multiple yoga classes a week at age 94
  • Lew Hollander, who became the second 80-year-old to complete the Ford Ironman World Championship, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon
  • Allan Johnson, who, in his 80s, still competes in rodeo competitions
  • Sensei Keiko Fukuda, who, at the age of 98, became the first woman to earn Judo's highest-degree black belt

My Father Is Nearly Sy's Age and Is Better with Non-Exercise Activity

I recently interviewed Dr. Joan Vernikos, who is the NASA scientist that helped understand and correct the negative effects of gravity and how it can reverse the damage that regularly sitting does.

Well, my dad is 84 years old and has a very sharp mind that hasn’t lost a beat, and metabolically and biochemically, he is very healthy. Unfortunately, aging has affected his structural system quite severely and he really can’t walk very well without a cane to assist with balance.

This is despite working as a furniture delivery driver for 47 years in which he would regularly move heavy furniture up flights of stairs. Ever since he retired, he has been doing two hours of cardio a day. For the last five years I have encouraged him to add strength training to his routine but he is somewhat resistant.

However, he did incorporate my latest recommendation for him to stand up every ten minutes from sitting. And this has positively affected his mobility. It is already beginning to make a difference in his balance, which will greatly improve his quality of life.

Who would have known something as simple as standing up every ten minutes would help. Please note that it must be spread out over the day. Simply standing up and down 35 times at once will absolutely not work. It needs to be spread out throughout the day.

Most of us will not be breaking world records in any athletic event at any age, let alone at 91. However, nearly everyone reading this has the potential to have the flexibility and freedom from structural pain that we had in our youth. So I would strongly encourage each and every one of you who spend hours a day sitting in front of a computer like I do, to integrate the non-exercise activities that Dr. Vernikos describes.

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Not Exercising? What's Your Excuse?

Whether you’ve never exercised before, or have simply fallen off track, today is the day you can renew your commitment to physical activity. Remember, you are never too old to start exercising. My mom is an excellent example, as she didn't start working out until she was 74 and now, at the age of 78, she has gained significant improvements in strength, range of motion, balance, bone density and mental clarity.

After a bit of apprehension at first, she now, as you can see on the video below, loves her workouts and, I'm hoping, will inspire you to get active as well, no matter what your age.

What Do You Stand to Gain from Exercising?

Research has shown that regular exercise, even initiated late in life, offers profound health benefits. For instance, one study of 40 competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers, ranging in age from 40 to 81, found no evidence of muscle deterioration -- the athletes in their 70s and 80s had almost as much thigh muscle mass as the athletes in their 40s.1 Other research has shown:

  • Even a small amount of exercise may protect the elderly from long-term memory loss and even help reverse some of the effects of aging.2
  • Women between the ages of 75 and 85, all of whom had reduced bone mass or full-blown osteoporosis, were able to lower their fall risk with strength training and agility activities.3
  • Moderate exercise among those aged 55-75 may cut the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases heart disease and diabetes risk.4
  • Among those who started exercising at age 50 and continued for 10 years, the rate of premature death declined dramatically, similar to giving up smoking and mirroring the level as seen among people who had been working out their entire lives.5

Special Tips for Exercising in Your Later Years

If you're elderly, it's advisable to get a workout buddy -- a personal trainer or someone who is experienced -- to help guide you through your routine. Start off slowly and gradually increase intensity as you grow stronger, avoiding activities that aggravate or cause pain. Just keep in mind that while you need to use caution, you do need to exercise at a level that is challenging to your body.

Otherwise the true benefits will be forfeited. Ideally your fitness program should be comprehensive, providing the necessary balance-training activities for stability while also improving your strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities. This includes activities such as:

High-intensity interval-type training (HIIT) like Peak Fitness

Once you hit the age of 30, you enter what's called "somatopause," at which point your levels of HGH begin to drop off quite dramatically. This decline of HGH is part of what drives your aging process, so maintaining your HGH levels gets increasingly important with age. HIIT boosts your body's natural production of HGH, which will help address the muscle loss and atrophy that typically occurs with aging. The higher your levels of HGH, the healthier, stronger and more “youthful” you will be.

While HIIT may seem too advanced for the elderly, don't let the intensity dissuade you! Rest assured you can perform HIIT at ANY age. The only difference is that the older you are the lower your maximum heart rate will be, and the more gradually you will want to increase your repetitions. I’ve discussed and demonstrated high intensity interval training exercises on a number of occasions in previous articles, so for detailed instructions and demonstrations, please see the video below.

 Whole Body Vibration (WBV)

For seniors who have a hard time performing aerobic exercise, using a Whole Body Vibration platform (such as The Power Plate) can help them improve performance, allowing them to become stronger, faster and more agile, according to recent research.6 WBV stimulation affects your entire body musculature, as well as your internal organs and glands. Your muscle spindles fire secondary to the mechanical stimulation produced by the vibrating plate, and this rapid firing of the muscle spindle causes a neuromuscular response that leads to physiological changes in your brain as well as your entire body.

Strength Training

Weight-bearing exercise, like resistance or strength training, can go a long way to prevent the loss of bone quality and density, and can help reverse the damage already done. Interestingly enough, strength training also has brain-boosting side effects, which can help you avoid age-related dementia. You can use either gym equipment or free weights. The former may be safer if you’re a novice, as free weights will require better form and control. Whichever one you choose, I recommend having a trainer take you through each exercise to make sure you have the proper form performing the exercise, to avoid injury.

Yoga and Other Forms of Flexibility and Balance Training

Yoga is particularly useful for promoting flexibility and core muscles, and has been proven beneficial if you suffer with back pain. Yoga is also an excellent choice for helping you improve and maintain your balance, especially if you include one-legged standing poses (if you need to use a chair or wall for support, that’s okay).

Non-Exercise Activity

As I mentioned above, standing up often, walking and even doing simple everyday movements like bending over to pick up your newspaper are equally, and possibly more, important than scheduled exercise sessions. The more you stay active during the day with non-exercise activity, the better. If this is a challenge for you, try spending more time doing hobbies, like gardening, or volunteering.

Remember, it’s truly possible to get fit at any age. So don’t let your age hold you back… if anything use it as your motivation. When it comes to staying in shape and aging gracefully, Tao Porchon-Lynch, the 94-year-old yoga teacher, said it well:7

“Don’t go by age. It means nothing.”