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How One 78-Year-Old is Defying the Stereotypes of Aging and How You Can Too

As you age, maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle becomes increasingly important for extending your health span. Overcoming stereotypes of limited mobility and physical ability in older adults can be challenging. However, it’s crucial to understand that you don’t have to settle for marginal health in your later years.

There are several key factors that play a role in aging gracefully and extending your health span. Meet one Vancouver woman who’s been practicing them for over 50 years.

At 78 years old, Bonnie is exceeding expectations for what a well-maintained body can do. For her, this achievement includes completing an impressive 33 Vancouver Sun Runs – and counting. By taking control of her health and prioritizing self-care, Bonnie shows us that age can truly be just a number.

Bonnie’s story didn’t start in her 70s. She’s been putting her health first for most of her life. She credits her parents for instilling good nutrition, resourcefulness and resilience; a career in the preventive field of dental hygiene; the importance of scheduling self-care, and, for the last 15 years, the care of Dr. Tasha Bienert and her team.

As healthy as she is, Bonnie questioned how sustainable it was.

“I asked Dr. Bienert if it was inevitable that I would become sick, like most people do. To my relief, she said no.”

“It all ties together,” says Dr. Bienert, “When we think about any of the major chronic diseases that people typically develop towards the end of their lives, such as heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, many of them are lifestyle diseases.”

Dr. Bienert goes on to say that the belief that everyone will develop one or more of these illnesses is a misconception. Healthy lifestyle is both the treatment and prevention. Aging in frailty is not inevitable. In fact, at any point that someone begins to exercise with consistency they will improve their longevity and begin to flatten the downward curve of aging. The earlier you start, the less disease and disabilities you will encounter, making the curve of your aging process less pronounced.

“What Bonnie has done through consistency in her nutrition and exercise is flatten her curve and increase her healthy years.” says Dr. Bienert.

This is supported by the latest research in aging that focuses on senescent cells. A natural process that is necessary for wound healing and other defense functions, accumulation of these cells is linked to aging and molecular damage. According to a 2022 research study, exercise counters the age-related accumulation of these cells. Scientists are actively working on how best to turn these findings into actionable medical treatments. For now, exercise seems to be an effective countermeasure and one that appears to be working for Bonnie.

Staying consistent

What sets Bonnie apart is her prevention-focused mindset and her consistency. Rather than waiting until something goes wrong, she proactively schedules self-care to prevent health issues from arising.

“We were taught to keep a calendar of everything we had to do and to include time to take care of ourselves. This stuck with me and I’ve used it ever since,” says Bonnie of how she schedules in time for exercise and plans everything else around it.

“I’ve never been on any great fitness mission, I simply feel better after I exercise. Even on my worst days when I don’t feel like I can do anything, I still show up. If it means I’m just walking that day, then so be it,” says Bonnie, who goes on to add that sometimes the hard part is making the time and getting out there.

Having a social component to fitness also helps. Bonnie and her friends help each other remain accountable and enjoy chatting while they do it.

Of course, it’s not just nutrition and exercise that’s helped her age gracefully, Bonnie also credits the care of her team at Harrison Healthcare. “I’m incredibly grateful to have Dr. Bienert in my corner, she’s a crucial part of our collaboration in keeping me (and others) healthy.”

Dr. Bienert adds that it is a team effort, Bonnie included, “She consistently sets goals. During her sessions with our Exercise Physiologists, she introduces new elements to her program, ensuring constant growth and progress.”

While many have stopped running due to injury, Bonnie’s legs haven’t quit on her, and for good reason.

By being consistently active, adhering to safe programming and not pushing herself too hard, Bonnie’s avoided injury and strain. For her, this means repeating the Vancouver Sun Run training program every year and running manageable distances between 3 to 5km, three times per week.

Bonnie gets important stretching movements, stability and balance from twice weekly yoga sessions. While her non-inflammatory eating habits give her the building blocks for muscle and good joint lubrication. Combined, she has everything her body needs to keep moving!

It’s no surprise that on a recent trip to Paris with her grandchildren, she was able to ditch the Metro at her grandson’s request and walk an impressive 19,000 steps per day.

“We were able to see so much more than we would have by taking the Metro. It was such a wonderful trip,” Bonnie recalls.

It’s actions like this that undoubtedly inspire those around her to stay fit so that they too can remain active and independent for years to come.

In 2009, she passed the Sun Run challenge onto her son, who is now a permanent member of her unofficial running club and annual Sun Runner. In 2019, she even got her then 14 year old grandson on board for a three generation Sun Run, a fond memory of hers.

Bonnie demonstrates that age doesn’t need to hold anyone back from pursuing their passions. Taking care of yourself through exercise and prioritizing preventive care can add many more active, healthy years to your life.

Bonnie C - 30th sun run with family
Proudly completing another Vancouver Sun Run with her son and grandson

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