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Don’t play dead while you’re still alive


After retirement age, depression doubles every five years … It’s an enormous strain if you’re not making a contribution to society, writes Lance Fredericks.

You are never too old to be active, it seems. Picture: Reuters, Suhaib Salem

THIS past week, while preparing for a teaching appointment, I was searching online for a suitable anecdote, a suitable story to kick off my presentation

I was looking for something interesting, quirky, and something upon which I could build my lesson, but nothing seemed to grab me. I would scan over something, shrug and move on; find something else, sigh and continue searching.

Then I came across an online article about the diet and exercise tips of Charles Eugster, and I spent some time reading it. You know something is interesting when it makes your brow lift and you go and do research to find out more about someone.

In the online article dated April 22, 2016, Charles Eugster, who at the time was a world champion sprinter, bodybuilder, and rower, shared his diet, exercise, and wellness suggestions for staying in shape as you age.

And his suggestions were worth looking at, I thought. After all, Eugster had set multiple world records in races ranging from the 60-metre sprints to the longer and more taxing 400-metre hauls.

Here’s the thing, at the time that the article was published Charles Eugster was already 96 years old. Something he said, as if to suggest how a person can stay strong, active and healthy had nothing to do with diet and exercise, that’s why it caught my eye. He said, “Retirement is one of the worst things that you can do to yourself.”

He explained why: “After retirement age, depression doubles every five years. I personally think that has a lot to do with retirement. It’s an enormous strain if you’re not making a contribution to society.”

I had to sit back and digest this. You see, just a short while earlier, I had learned two new words while in conversation with a few friends. The first of these words is the Dutch word ‘Epibreren’ meaning ‘to give the appearance of being busy doing something important in the workplace when in reality you’re being super lazy’.

The other word was ‘spuddle’ which means, to work tirelessly without achieving anything of worth … putting in a great deal of effort and achieving only very little … or, put another way, to make a lot of fuss about trivial things, as if it were important.

I wanted to contribute to the conversation, but at the time I didn’t know the word ‘Throttlebottom’ … throttlebottom, you see, is an innocuously inept and worthless person in public office.

And this is usually the time in my column that I would whip out my sharpened and polished index finger and start pointing out the ‘epibrerenites’, ‘spuddlers’ and throttlebottoms that have crossed my path in the recent past, but I find that exhausting.

Personally though, I’d rather speak more about Charles Eugster. Consider the following: Eugster, who was born on July 26, 1919, restarted a career in rowing at age 63. He, took up bodybuilding at 87 and sprinting at 95.

He also said that he got into weight training because he discovered that though he was aerobically fit – thanks to him rowing six days a week – his body was still deteriorating. He said that he discovered that by the time a person reaches the age of 85 you may have lost around 50 percent of your muscle mass and as much power. He suggested that older people do everything they can to build muscle.

More specifically, he offered some health tips saying that older people should, where possible, employ high-intensity interval training – exercise that involves short bursts of intense activity alternated with recovery periods. He also mentioned that people should not train too much because the body benefits from rest periods; instead of going at it six days a week, do three he said.

According to Eugster it’s also important to trim the waist as much as you can, and he says that learning a new sport or activity not only benefits the body, but stimulates the mind as well.

All hyped up and excited, I closed the webpage about Eugster’s diet and exercise tips eager to find out more.

The next page I opened read: “Dr Charles Eugster died on 26 April 2017 after suffering heart failure. He was 97.”

It was sobering. Look, I wanted to feel deflated and sad, but could not help feeling a burning admiration and inspiration.

Let this sink in: At the time of his death, Eugster held the British records for 60-metre Indoor, 100-metre and 200-metre Outdoor and Long Jump and was a two-time World Record holder for his age group in sprinting. He was also a four-time World Fitness Champion.

During his career as a master rower, Eugster won an incredible 40 Gold Medals for World Masters Rowing.

Summarising what I took from my short trip into the world of Charles Eugster, I can say that it taught me far more than the benefits of simple exercise. What he said about retirement touched a chord. He reminded me once again that having a job is not the same as working at your job, and you can always do better.

The way I see it, if we simply ‘spuddle’ along – we could possibly be increasing our chances of depression. By not contributing to society people could be damaging themselves. Being productive is such a privilege, and we should appreciate that fact by doing our best every day, regardless of whether there are ‘epibrerenites’ (yes, I made up that word) on the team.

In fact British advertising tycoon David Ogilvy would seem to agree with that opinion. He is credited with saying: “Men (people) die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work.”

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