Pushups Make Every Day Awesomer for This 101-Year-Old

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Pushups Make Every Day Awesomer for This 101-Year-Old

John Nagy reveals how strength training has extended the quality and length of his life

This is one in a series of 12 stories that explores the role of strength in modern life.

This man lives for exercise. “I’ve always been active and involved in sports,” says John Nagy, a chirpy 101-year-old. “And I love the social part of training.” Nagy is in a crew of about 30 mature swolesters, all over 70, who train daily at the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE) gym at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. They provide the oomph in an ongoing research project on strength and longevity, spearheaded by Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., the director of PACE and a professor of kinesiology. “The data shows that being strong is as big a mediator in terms of long-term health as anything,” he says.

The data shows that being strong is as big a mediator in terms of long-term health as anything”

“Muscle is protective against cancer, it enhances survivorship in people with cancer, and it reduces the risk of mortality in people with hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.” A new JAMA study revealed that if you can do 40 or more pushups in a row, you’re 96 percent less likely to deal with heart problems in the next decade than someone who can’t do 10.

Phillips expects that in five years the government recommendation regarding strength training will be beefed up: Instead of suggesting two strength sessions per week, it will recommend three to five. “Strength really is a buffer to mortality,” he says. “And more importantly, it extends your health span, so you can maintain a higher quality of life for longer.” Starting around age 40, most people begin to lose muscle mass. It’s imperceptible at first but accelerates to about a pound per year by the time you’re 50. It’s easier to mitigate the slope of that decline by training more when you’re younger than it is to try to rebound when your muscle has wasted away.

“I can still walk as well as I can because I train.”

Nagy is living proof of that. He’s 5-foot-6 and a solid 154 pounds—around the same weight he has always been—and has trained regularly for the past 70 years. The standing cable press and pushup are his favorite exercises, and he does them in workouts that tend to last about 90 minutes but include lots of recovery time spent joshing with his squad. Nagy took a tumble two years ago, breaking his arm and knocking out a few teeth. “Being strong helped me recover better,” he says. “I can still walk as well as I can because I train.”

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