Silver Sprinters

The Independent (London, England), November 2, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Silver Sprinters


The footballer aged 72, the marathon runner in his 90s - what's their secret? Rebecca Armstrong finds out how these senior sportsmen keep running

Anyone who finds doing regular exercise something of a chore could do worse than following Dickie Borthwick's example. Known as Dixie to his friends, Borthwick plays football once a week, eats low GI porridge for energy, takes vitamins every day and gave up smoking to improve his heath. Couch potatoes should also take note that Borthwick is 72 years old and played his first match aged 12. "I don't feel like I'm in my 60th season," he says. "I still feel young at heart and feel like I can go on for a few years yet."

Borthwick isn't the only older athlete putting fitness-phobics half his age to shame. John Starbrook, 76, competed in his first triathlon earlier this year "for a bit of a challenge". This gruelling event would be enough of a challenge to most people, but Starbrook also runs in two marathons every year. "I've done about 40 marathons in total. As I do two marathons a year, I basically train all year round - it's New York in November and London in April," he says. "In between I've started doing triathlons for a bit of fun."

Fauja Singh, 96, from Redbridge, Essex, took up marathon running at the age of 89. "I've always been active and growing up in Beas Pind in India I used to miss school to watch sporting events. I moved to London aged 84 and began running marathons five years later," he explains. "Now I walk or jog eight to 10 miles per week with one proper session with my trainer."

According to NHS guidelines, everyone, regardless of age, should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week to improve mobility and reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. But while it can be all too easy to find excuses to avoid starting an exercise routine, Borthwick, Singh and Starbrook prove that age shouldn't stand in the way of fitness.

So what are their secrets? "I attribute my health to simple, stress-free living and humbleness before God," says Singh. "I'm teetotal, vegetarian and don't eat greasy or fast foods. Fresh food is best." And while Borthwick is a fan of supplements - "I have a strict routine with my vitamins every day" - Starbrook eats a normal diet and doesn't hold much truck with pills of any kind. "I don't eat much rubbish food - no burgers or any of that - just good stuff," he says. "I don't take any vitamins or supplements, I don't even like taking an aspirin, but I seem to be alright."

As we age, our bodies start to change. "The first thing is that you tend to get a change in body composition so you get a reduction in muscle mass and strength and an increase in percentage of body fat," says Lorenzo Masci, a sports physician at Pure Sports Medicine.

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