Friday 6 December 2019

Miracle man: The 94-year-old who will put your fitness regime to shame

Nonagenarian Dr Charles Eugster who changed his diet, and fitness regime at the age of 87 lends some fitness motivation

Charles Eugster
Charles Eugster
Charles Eugster
Charles Eugster

Ailin Quinlan

Aged 87, he joined a body-building club, changed his diet, got fit and lost 12 kilos under the watchful eye of a former Mr Universe.

In his early 90s, he was employed for two years as an ambassador by a German fitness group – tests around that time determined that his body was actually 20 years younger than his chronological age.

At 93, he took a genetic test to determine the most appropriate exercise and nutrition for his body and successfully tweaked his fitness regime and diet accordingly.

He currently travels the world as a motivational speaker and is training as a runner while preparing to publish a book.

He's also thinking about setting up a new business.

Meet 94-year-old Dr Charles Eugster, the World's Fittest Old Age Pensioner, 34-times World Masters Rowing Championship Gold medallist and three-times World Strenflex Champion – his winning performance in 2013 featured 57 dips, 61 chin-ups, 50 push-ups and 48 abdominal crunches, each in 45 seconds.

Eugster dismisses any talk about the 'inevitable effects' of ageing on the body.

Retirement is a disaster, he believes, and good nutrition and regular, competitive, exercise are crucial for a long and healthy life, no matter how old you are.

Charles Eugster

"For me, growing old is a joy; it's wonderful, it's one of the best parts of my life and that could be for everybody," declares the father-of-two grown-ups and the world's fittest nonagenarian who was in Ireland recently to give a key-note address at University College Dublin to the inaugural Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) Ireland National Convention.

"Most of us can be healthy in old age," declares Eugster, who has no chronic disease, does not take pills and, since the age of 90, has not suffered so much as a cold.

His passion for fitness began when the UK-born dentist, who had rowed in his youth, took up the sport again in his early sixties.

After reluctantly deciding to retire from his profession at the age of 75 – but only after losing the necessary dexterity in his fingers – he was 78 when he decided to row internationally in the European Masters in Munich.

He won the single sculls and later went on to win 36 World Masters and six Euro Masters gold medals.

However, although he was still training six days a week at the age of 87 – mainly endurance training for his rowing – he wasn't happy with the condition of his body.

"I felt my body was deteriorating. I was getting fatter. The worst thing was that I was losing muscle mass. I was eating regular food, probably too much of it, and I was overweight and losing muscle mass."

Eugster decided to join a body building club because, he says, "I felt they were the only people who knew anything about building muscle."

He was trained by a former Mr Universe, who told him to lose weight – Eugster lost 12 kilos in a year by cutting out sweets, sugar and salt and reducing the amount of food he ate. Later, he began hypertrophy training, whereby the muscles are worked to exhaustion: "In order to build muscle, you have to use your muscle to exhaustion.

Charles Eugster

"Minute tears occur in the muscle fibre and these encourage the muscles to grow and repair themselves," he says.

Between the ages of 87 and 89 he was training four times a week for 90 minutes each time, he explains.

At the age of 89 he met his present coach, Sylvia Gattiker, and under her direction, his performance improved significantly.

About a year ago, the now 93-year-old took a genetic test which would both determine his body type and the form of exercise which was most appropriate to him – each person is a "genetic type," he explains.

"This test told me that I happen to be a 'power' type," he says, adding that the test also highlights what kind of nutrition is best for your body. "I am a power type – good at short distances, not good for long distance. My diet must contain a lot of protein.

"Diet and the exercise you do should be suited to your type. My coach knows I'm good for the power things and she has tweaked my training to comply with the result of the test.

"I also tweaked my diet to contain protein and cut out carbs. I was 93 when I did that," he says, adding that he firmly believes "25% of ageing is genetic, 75% is diet and exercise."

His body certainly belies his chronological age – about two-and-a-half years ago, at about the age of 92, Eugster appeared on a German TV programme which ran a series of tests to ascertain his actual 'body age' – which the testers assessed as just 72 years.

There are three main techniques to achieving healthy old age, he believes – work, diet and exercise, and of these, number one is work: "Work keeps you healthy. You have to work because it keeps your mind and body active," he says, adding that soon after giving up work on his newsletter at the age of 82, he began to notice a physical decline.

"My mind and body weren't as busy. You must have a purpose in life. If you retire you're a nobody; you make no contribution to society and your health deteriorates," he says.

Retirement, believes Eugster, "is a financial disaster and a health catastrophe." It was never meant to go on as long as it does nowadays, he maintains.

Charles Eugster

The second most important factor in a long and healthy life is nutrition, he says: "What we're eating nowadays is destroying our health. The human race is committing mass suicide by eating too much of the wrong food."

Thirdly, is exercise – take it regularly and make sure it's the kind of exercise that's relevant to your body type, he says. "In old age, no matter how old you are, food and exercise are crucial," says Eugster, adding that he is preparing to publish a book about ageing and, while he hasn't yet decided on a title, he's thinking about calling it, "95 and Loving It!"

He's currently in discussions about the establishment of a fitness training scheme for the elderly.

While old age may be associated with problems such as loss of strength, muscle mass, balance or mental agility, Eugster believes these common ailments can be combated with specifically-tailored fitness programmes.

A passionate advocate for training in old age, he believes that the right type of training can be of huge benefit to older people.

Most gyms are targeted at 30-50 year-olds, he says, and don't usually have fitness programmes specifically tailored around problems related to old age. He is now, he says, at the age of 94, considering a potential business opportunity in the fitness coaching sector. Such a training programme for older people would emphasise continuous assessment of their physical strengths and weaknesses and their progress.

Although you may be old, competitive sports keeps both mind and body healthy, he believes. Life is all about challenges, and it's important to always attempt something new, no matter how old you are.

"One should take part in competitive sports at any age – or start a new sport at any age," says Eugster, pointing out that, although he has never run in his life, he is currently preparing for the British Masters Athletics Championships race in Birmingham next August. He will attempt the 100 and 200 metres for men aged 95 and over.

Since no records have yet been set in this age category, Eugster is currently aiming to beat all records set in the lower category, for men aged 90-plus.

And, if you need to be reminded, he himself is living proof of his own adage: "Anyone's life in advanced years can be dramatically better than they can ever have imagined if they invest in the right type of training."

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