25/02/2024

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83-Year-Old Triathlete Neurosurgeon’s Longevity, Fitness Tips

83-Year-Old Triathlete Neurosurgeon’s Longevity, Fitness Tips
  • Dr. Joseph Maroon was so unfit he could barely climb the stairs aged 40.
  • The 83-year-old turned his health around decades ago and now competes in triathlons. 
  • The neurosurgeon shares 3 tips for younger people who want to be as fit as him.

At age 40, Dr. Joseph Maroon was so unfit that he would struggle to climb a flight of stairs. But everything changed when a family friend encouraged him to go for a run after he hit rock bottom.

Now aged 83, Maroon competes in triathlons and continues to practice as a neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, two decades past the point when most people retire.

In 1980, Maroon’s life was “out of balance,” he told Business Insider. In the space of a week his father died, meaning he had to quit his thriving neurosurgery career to take over his truck stop business, and he got divorced.

“I was depressed. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was 20 pounds overweight. I couldn’t walk up a flight of steps,” he said.

By the time the family friend phoned him up about running, he was willing to try anything to improve his mental health.

Exercise changed his life

“I got a pair of tennis shoes and my surgical scrubs, went down to the local high school track, and I made it around four times. I said never again — I was out of breath, I hurt, I almost threw up,” he said.

“But that night was the first night I slept properly in about four months. So I went back the next day, and I did a mile and a quarter. Then the next day I did a mile and a half. And then two and then three and five miles.”

Soon, he was learning to swim and starting to cycle, increasing his distances in the hope that his mental health would keep improving.

Before long, he entered his first triathlon and, in 1993 at the age of 53, he did his first Ironman Triathlon — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile cycle, rounded off with a marathon.

“The exercise propelled me out of my depression and back onto my feet,” he wrote of his experiences on his website, and he was soon able to return to neurosurgery.

“​​That one run around a high school track saved my life,” he told BI.

Since then, Maroon has completed eight Ironman Triathlons and placed second in his age category for the 2022 National Senior Games triathlon. He also has a busy career, researching and writing books about longevity and healthy living, serving as the medical director for WWE, and recently appearing at the Global Aging Consortium, an event run by a private clinic where those in the longevity space discuss aging research.

Maroon shared his tips for younger people wanting to be as fit and healthy with BI.

Start with a walk

“You don’t have to start with a triathlon,” he said. “Just start with a walk.”

Experts agree starting slowly is the best way to start a new fitness journey and make sustainable changes. Start with 15 to 20 minutes every day or other day to give your body a chance to adjust and your mind to get used to it, Adia Callahan, a certified personal trainer and founder of See Me Wellness, previously told BI.

There are innumerable ways to do aerobic activity these days, from triathlons to running on a treadmill or using an elliptical, Maroon said, so pick an exercise that works for you.

Do resistance training and flexibility exercises

As well as aerobic activity, Maroon said people should also do resistance training and flexibility exercises. He likes to do pilates, but also recommended stretching, yoga, or isometric exercises for flexibility, and using bands and weight-lifting for resistance training.

BI’s Gabby Landsverk recently reported on ways to build muscle for beginners, such as rucking, rowing, and lifting weights.

Address the balance in your life

Finding a balance between work and family commitments has also been key to Maroon improving his fitness.

Before he started taking care of his health, he was “unaware how I was sacrificing everything for my work. I was one-dimensional,” he said.

Now, he assesses the balance between work commitments, his family and social life, exercise, and spirituality in his life each day, and readjusts in the way that’s best for his health, he said.

This is because being “out of balance” causes stress, which sends the body into fight or flight mode. Being in this state chronically has been linked to health problems including the buildup of plaque in the arteries, destroys cells in your brain, and trigger inflammation, he said.

And since chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, he said, reducing stress by rebalancing your priorities is pivotal for general health and longevity.

“If you modulate your work, your family, your spirituality, and your physical life, I think you can function at a high level for a long time,” he said.