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Why Running Could Be the Secret to Longevity

Can you imagine racing in an international track meet… as a 95-year-old? Welcome to the World Masters Athletics Championships.

It’s where oldies get sweaty and feisty, just like teenagers at a high-school track meet, but on an international level. And these runners, jumpers, and throwers compete at an age when most people have thrown in the athletic towel.

The Event

The championship track meet is held every two years, for both indoor and outdoor track, in different locations. This year, more than 4,000 competitors from 80 countries traveled to Perth, Australia for the outdoor competition during the last week of October.

Age classifications are every 5 years, starting from 35-39, 40-44, and so forth, until 100+. You might scoff at the idea of a competitor older than a century. Not so fast. This year in Perth, the New York Times highlighted a runner from India who is supposedly 119 years old.

Runners Who Inspire

Dharam Pal Singh, a farmer from rural India, claims he’s 119, and his passport corroborates this. But, there’s reason to suspect he’s not this old, as he lacks any credible documentation from the early decades of his life. The birthdate on his passport was issued based on a horoscope from his mother, as Singh doesn’t have a birth certificate or any school documentation.

Regardless, he hasn’t been deterred from competing as a Masters Athlete. Singh boasts Masters’ wins in events from the 200 to the marathon.

Another runner at this year’s championships in Perth was a host-country favorite: John Gilmour, a WWII veteran and POW who survived a Japanese forced labor camp. He resumed running and racing after surviving the horrific War, inspiring Australians and other Masters athletes for decades.

Gilmour—97, proven by loads of credible documentation, on the other hand—competed in the 800-meter run in Perth in the 95-99 age division, as the only competitor.

Secrets to Longevity

Singh credits running as his a primary reason for his good health, along with a vegetarian diet rich in fruit, chutney, and cow’s milk. He preaches the importance of avoiding sugar, fried food, tobacco, and alcohol.

Like Singh, Gilmour credits a life of positivity, running, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco as a secret to longevity.

All in My Stride, a biography on Gilmour by Richard Harris documents Gilmour’s survival through the war, highlighting his inspiring outlook to strive and look beyond adversities. Staying positive and making goals is a common theme in Masters’ runners’ secrets to longevity.

Whether it’s Singh, Glimour, or your great-great aunt who’s still crushing it, be inspired by the elders still running and living to their fullest. We’ve got lots of living left to do!

Are you a runner? At what age did you start running?


About the Author

Clare Gallagher is an ultrarunner for The North Face and travels extensively for races and philanthropic work. She studied coral ecology at Princeton University where she also ran cross country and track. Clare has taught English in Thailand where she started a non-profit environmental stewardship program, she has scribed in emergency rooms across Denver, and she writes regularly for various running blogs.

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