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Senior Olympics help older athletes stay motivated, fit
Posted 9/28/2012 10:51 AM ET

Feeling a little extra incentive to get off the sofa and get moving during the London Olympics?

You're in good company, says Mike Sophia, CEO of the National Senior Games Association.

"One of the things I love the most about watching the Olympics is everyone gets inspired to start working out," Sophia says.

No one is ever too old to start a fitness plan and reap the benefits, he adds. Being active improves sleeping, weight control, concentration and mood. Regular physical activity can help control blood pressure and cholesterol and may reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, Alzheimer's disease and erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Exercising is probably the single most effective way to decrease heart disease risk, the USA's leading cause of death. The good news: 80% of it is preventable.

If you're not active, ease into your workouts to prevent injuries. Make it part of your daily routine, getting a mix of aerobic, resistance and flexibility training. The government recommends adults get 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense exercise, but new studies show that less can be effective.

One of the tips in the Mayo Clinic's book Healthy Heart for Life is to turn 10 minutes of sedentary time into active time each day: walk-and-talk meetings, short breaks to lift hand weights, and stationary bike rides while catching up on the TV news. Chances are once you get started, you'll want to increase your commitment, the authors write, because you'll feel better.

Still, the fired-up feeling you get from watching Jamaica's Usain Bolt sprint down the track probably will cool off unless you have a long-range goal. Sophia has a way to help you make it stick.

He is lining up people 50 and older to compete at the 2013 Summer National Senior Games in Cleveland. Qualifying continues through the end of the year. He expects a record number of participants; about 10,000 competed in 2011.

Track events are by far the most popular. And maybe for good reason: Regular jogging increases men's life expectancy by 6.2 years and women's by 5.6 years, the Copenhagen City Heart Study found. Researchers say one to 2½ hours a week, in two to three sessions, gave the best results, especially when performed at slow or average speed.

Graham Johnston, 81, of Houston says competition keeps him going. He swam in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and has been competing in U.S. Masters Swimming since 1973, a year after it was founded. "I've been going ever since," he says. "I stopped swimming after college for 17 years because the masters program didn't exist."

He has broken nearly 90 masters world records in seven age groups. "My main purpose in life is to stay healthy until the day I die," he says.

All ages participate: "People who are 100 have already qualified," Sophia says. Qualifying is taking place this year at games in 49 states, with age-group competitions in a dozen sports. "These Games are motivation for people to stay healthy."

Posted 9/28/2012 10:51 AM ET
Art Turock, left, of Kirkland, Wash., powers to the finish line July 28 in the men's 50-meter dash at the Washington State Senior Games track and field competition in Tumwater, Wash.
Tony Overman, The Olympian, via AP
Art Turock, left, of Kirkland, Wash., powers to the finish line July 28 in the men's 50-meter dash at the Washington State Senior Games track and field competition in Tumwater, Wash.