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Olympic legends on staying fit over 50

Danny Scott / 26 July 2016

Former British Olympians, including Linford Christie, Sharron Davies and Derek Redmond, share their secrets for staying healthy and supple aged over 50.

Sally Gunnell © Featureflash Photo Agency /
Sally Gunnell © Featureflash Photo Agency /

Sally Gunnell, 50

Olympic gold medal, 400m hurdles

Barcelona, 1992

Keep surprising your body… swimming, cycling, a Pilates session, then the cross trainer or a 5k run. If you just do the same exercise, week-in, week-out, your body will work out the minimum amount of effort it needs to expend for that activity. But when the body is confronted with something new, it has to work that little bit harder.

Mixing things up also gives your body time to recover. After all those miles I’ve put in over the years, running now leaves me with terrible back pain. But if I get a Pilates session in afterwards, I can limit the damage.

Balance and co-ordination start to deteriorate after 50. Cycling is good for this, and low impact, but you can also look at things such as t’ai chi or even ballroom dancing!

Find motivational speaker Sally at

Are you in an exercise rut? Try these ways to shake up your routine

Sharron Davies, 53

Olympic silver medal, individual medley

Moscow, 1980

‘Bingo wings’ are basically your triceps. So tone them up and you’ll banish the bingo wings. There are lots of simple exercises online, and YouTube videos from me!

Weight training is good too – a lot of women are worried that if they do it, they’ll end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But a light programme will mean that you won’t build muscle, just firm it all up.

Friends often say to me, ‘Oh, I’ve noticed my metabolism slowing down as I’ve got older’. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. If you slow down, your metabolism will slow down. Keep moving and your metabolism will stay right with you.

See Sharron’s swim goggles at

Over-50s nutrition myths – including metabolism slow down

Linford Christie, 56

Olympic gold medal, 100m

Barcelona, 1992

Don’t get caught up with all the fad diets. Use your common sense… everything in moderation.

Someone once told me that one of the biggest problems in old age is flexibility. Even if you do nothing else, try to keep stretching. Stick on your favourite album and stretch with your partner in the bedroom. And don’t neglect those other bedroom activities – heh, heh! Anything that works up a sweat is good for the heart!

Rest is fuel for the body. I still do a lot of coaching with young athletes and I always tell them that a good night’s sleep is like filling up the petrol tank in your car. How do young babies grow and develop? They eat and they sleep.

People always stop me in the street and say, ‘How can I keep fit?’ I’ve worked out a little circuit that I give them… push-ups, stomach crunches, squats and dips. Just ten minutes a day and you’ll be working all the major muscle groups.

Linford is the founder of Street Athletics, a series of community-focussed events (

10 healthy reasons to get a better night’s sleep

Kriss Akabusi, 57

Olympic silver medal, 400m relay

Los Angeles, 1984

Get to bed at a reasonable time. If I’m up later than 10.30pm, I start hunting for junk food… pizza, biscuits, chocolate.

I can’t do the type of intense training that I used to do 30 years ago, but even if I’m just going for a walk with the dogs, I try to trick my body into thinking it’s working harder than it is. I focus on my breathing, imagining the air rushing into my lungs, all the capillaries opening up as the blood courses around. In my mind, I’m running the toughest race of my life!

I park the car a mile down the road from where I actually need to be, if I’m meeting a friend or going into town for a meeting. I still get there, but I get 20 minutes’ exercise too.

Have you ever noticed that, when you’re in a good mood, your back doesn’t seem to ache as much? Live your life with a glad heart and that will go a long way to improving your health and wellbeing.

10 ways to lift your mood

Mary Peters, 77

Olympic gold medal, pentathlon

Munich, 1972

You don’t need to go to the gym to exercise. Why not make it part of your normal day? For example, when you’re making lunch, use that tin of peas as a weight and do a bit of work on your arms. When you’re doing the washing-up, try a half-squat after you wash each plate.

I love gardening, but there are so many gadgets out there that you don’t actually have to do much work. Get yourself a pair of old-fashioned garden shears… that’ll give your arms a grand workout.

Where I live in Belfast, we have ‘Push A Buggy’ day at the local running track. Mums and grannies do a few circuits while they’re bonding with the youngsters, having a chat and putting the world to rights!

Easy ways to work out at home

Neil Adams, 57

Olympic silver medal, judo

Moscow, 1980, and Los Angeles, 1984

There is a big difference between a warm-up and a stretch. The warm-up involves movement and cardio-vascular work… maybe 20 minutes on the static bike.

The stretch comes at the end of your work out, when your muscles and hamstrings are in the mood for a little bit extra. Attack your hamstrings at the start of a session and you’ll more than likely hear them go ping.

Getting fit can mean a million different things. Before you start signing up for classes and gym memberships, work out what it is you’re after. Do you just want to play beach football with your kids or grandkids, or are you looking to run the London Marathon?

Stretching: what you need to know

Alan Wells, 64 

Olympic gold (100 metres) and silver (200 metres) medals

Moscow, 1980

I’ve had a long-term back problem and know that lifting weights can be an issue. Resistance bands are a great alternative for building strength without having to hump all that metal around. With the right exercise, they can sort out all sorts of injuries… they even cured my golfer’s shoulder!

Borrow my daughter’s pug, Dexter. I took him out running with me and he just loved it. Now, every time my daughter comes over to the house, he goes absolutely mental until I put on my jogging bottoms and take him out for 30 minutes. I almost get as much pleasure watching him run as I do from the exercise!

Alan’s wife Dr Margot Wells runs fitness coaching company Welllfast. For more:

Advice on running with your dog

A version of this article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Saga Magazine. To read health and fitness tips from David Hemery, Kirsty Wade, Suzanne Dando and more, subscribe or download Saga Magazine.

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