Olympians are our role models for health and fitness - but like everyone - even Olympians age. After winning their medals, these elite athletes get older and eventually retire from their sports. What happens next? Do Olympians have secrets to share about healthy aging, longevity, and staying fit through the years?
With the 2012 Olympics almost upon us, we interviewed three former gold medalists of different generations for their advice on how they maintained a healthy lifestyle as they aged - and how you can do the same!
It may come as no surprise that Olympians make staying active a top priority when it comes to health and wellness. Twenty years ago, Shannon Miller won five medals at the 1992 Olympics, followed by two gold medals at the 1996 Games, making her the most decorated American gymnast in history.
However, once she retired from gymnastics, Miller struggled to maintain the fitness levels that had come so easily when she was a teen athlete, training 40-plus hours a week. In the years following her Olympic victories, Miller added a significant amount of weight to her five-foot frame, going up four dress sizes.
"I became very unhealthy as far as diet and exercise," admits Miller. "I really didn't know how to train or how to eat as a normal person." It was at that point she realized she had to make a change.
Today, Miller takes an "everything in moderation" approach to her diet, and has traded her vigorous balance-beam routines for simple workouts that she can do in sight of her toddler. "I love to go on walks with my son," she says. "I also do a fair amount of elliptical because it's something that's easy to do while my son is napping. If you can remain active, it's going to help in so many other areas."
Mind the Basics
Wendy Boglioli and her relay teammates won gold and set a world record in women's swimming in 1976. More than 35 years later, she continues to train in and out of the pool, often leaving much younger people in her wake.
Apart from maintaining an active lifestyle, Boglioli believes that the number-one factor behind healthy aging is nutrition. "That means eating real food," she says. "If you can't hunt it, pick it, harvest it, or fish it, do not eat it! If you could just do 80 percent of your diet that way - that would be huge."
Boglioli also stresses the importance of getting a good night's sleep. "So many people think that it's just three or four hours and I'm good to go," Boglioli says. "But you need those eight to nine hours of sleep, because it is only then that the body will recover mentally and physically."
Find the Fun
A true golden Olympian, Dick Fosbury won gold at the Olympics more than four decades ago in 1968, revolutionizing a new high jump technique that became known as the "Fosbury Flop."
From Fosbury's home in the mountains of Idaho, he takes advantage of easy access to ample exercise opportunities like hiking and snowshoeing. He finds that if he spends 15 to 30 minutes walking, running, or climbing, it relieves stress and allows him to solve problems.
Fosbury emphasizes that one of his most important longevity secrets has been to find ways to continue to have fun being active. "Fun is always an important part of it," he says. "If I miss playing or having some activity, I don't feel as good. Consider that with your exercise, you are recreating yourself. While you're doing recreation, you are recreating yourself each day."
Do What You Can
As a Baby Boomer moving into middle age and retirement, Boglioli says it's more important for her to be on her game now than ever before.
"I think people should embrace the age they are," she says. "I am going to do everything in my power to be as fit as I can, at the ages that I am, going forward."
Boglioli adds that if you can start embracing exercise as something you want to do, rather than something you have to do, you'll pave a completely new future for yourself. "It's less about surviving and it's a whole lot more about thriving," she says.
Fosbury adds that not everyone needs to change--sometimes it's just about recognizing and validating the steps that you're already taking in the right direction.
"I'm here to encourage people to continue what they're doing, if they're happy and getting some exercise," Fosbury says. "All of that is so important, and it's the philosophy of Olympism: to balance body, spirit, and mind."