Michael J. Joyner
Friday October 30th, 2015

On November 1, golfing great Gary Player will celebrate his 80th birthday. I am sure this milestone will be marked in the media with reverent recitations of his formidable competitive record, which includes his nine major championships on the regular Tour and nine on the senior tour. Player is a pioneer in the globalization of sports and in the development of spinoff commercial opportunities for top athletes. He has also used his fame and wealth to do good works.  

As notable as all of this is, it misses two of his biggest innovations. Long before such terms as high intensity training, core body strength and strength training were common in locker rooms and gyms all over the world, Gary Player was working out. Before it was considered essential, the idea that a golfer or other skill-sport athlete might actually lift weights was inconceivable. Fears about becoming muscle bound and tight dominated the discussion, but starting in the 1950s, when even most NFL players did not lift weights, Player showed that threat was all a myth. 

Player’s second big innovation was to keep exercising, and as a result he stands as one of the most high-profile examples of the anti-aging effects of exercise. Even in his late 70s, Player displays a golf swing that has barely changed; he can still get the club up high on his backswing, rotate his hips, transfer the weight to his left side and really hit the ball. In fact, his “10 rules on being an Athlete” are absolutely state-of-the-art for both being an athlete and pushing back against aging.

Here are Player’s 10 rules, with added comments:

  • Make it part of you. People who are fit do something almost every day.  Many have simple routines that they can perform almost anywhere with or without a facility. When I travel I take a jump rope. Calisthenics are free and they work.
  • Walk at a good clip. You could also take the stairs whenever possible and take advantage of other routine opportunities for physical activity.  In middle-aged and older people, once walking speed starts to decline health problems usually follow.
  • Develop both sides of your body. Imbalances lead to injury.
  • Focus on your hands and wrists. What skill sport does not require use of your hands? With aging, those with good grip strength live the longest.
  • Work on your core. The core is where your power comes from and that is true if you are 18 or 80.

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

  • Fight becoming overweight. We all know that the best exercise is sometimes pushing away from the table. People who avoid weight gain in middle age are active but they also watch what they eat and reach for a piece of fruit instead of the bag of chips.
  • Eat super foods. The observation that eating too much highly processed food contributes to weight gain is a valuable one, and folks who stay lean watch what they eat. Things like tree nuts, fruits, veggies, and olive oil have been shown in well-done research studies to do things like reduce cholesterol and are associated with longevity.
  • Try to get winded 10 minutes at day. Physical activity is good, and even a little bit of higher intensity activity can go a long way toward boosting your aerobic capacity.
  • Be smart about weight training. A key for improved performance for younger people and perhaps a bigger key for middle aged and older people. Frailty is the ultimate enemy as you age.
  • Get energy from young people. Most of us are lucky enough to know an 80-year-old who is still really with it, and most of them spend plenty of time with younger people and make a point of trying new things and being in the thick of things. 

So, when you see super-fit young people raising the competitive bar in sports like golf or older athletes competing at a high level in their late 30s and 40s, remember that they are channeling Gary Player, whether they know it or not. When you go to the gym and keep after it on a daily and yearly basis you too are channeling Gary Player. Who knows what Gary Player considers to be his greatest victory or biggest accomplishment over the last 80 years, but that he has kept after it so long and so hard certainly has to be one of them. 

Channel Gary Player, it is the best 80th birthday present any of us can send him.

Michael Joyner, is an expert in human performance at the Mayo Clinic, these views are his own. You can follow him on twitter @DrMJoyner

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