Getting Athletic Over 50 | Torrance Memorial

Published on May 01, 2022

Getting Athletic Over 50

How and why to get off the couch

senior male swimming laps

Written by Dana Klosner

It’s no secret we need to stay active as we age. It’s good for us physically and helps keep us socially and emotionally balanced as well. But what if you’ve been a couch potato your entire life? It’s never too late to start.

For Barry Morrill, 67, of Torrance, the wake-up call came when he was 56. At his annual checkup, his doctor told him he had fatty tissue growing around his liver the same way an alcoholic would. He was in the initial stages of hypertension, and his cholesterol wasn’t looking good.

“My doctor gave me six months to change my lifestyle, or I was going to have to go on pills,” Morrill says. He always liked walking, so he set his sights on running—taking one step at a time. 

On his first try, he was completely out of breath after one short block. Not deterred, he walked until he made a 3-mile loop. From there he continued mixing running with walking until he did his first 5K. Now, 11 years later, he has run five marathons and a 62-mile race that took 21 hours. And just for fun, he runs from Torrance to Santa Monica on The Strand.

The physical benefits are astounding. He lost 65 pounds—bringing him down to a healthy weight. The fatty tissue around his liver is gone, and his blood pressure and cholesterol are excellent.

The social and emotional benefits are off the charts as well. After reaching his goals, he set out to help other people who are just starting. He now coaches new runners with the South Bay Runners Club and the L.A. Leggers—the oldest marathon training club in Los Angeles.

“I love to see new people,” he says. “People come with this goal as though it was crazy—wanting to run their first 5K, 10K, half or even full marathon. The look of joy and accomplishment on their faces when they cross the finish line brings a tear to my eye.”

If you’re looking for something a little easier on the joints, you could try swimming. Bob Goodis, DDS, 65, of Redondo Beach, was feeling a bit lethargic when he would take his daughter—who swam competitively–to practice and see how lean and fit all the people were at the pool. At one of those practices, Goodis, who was then 50 years old, met Clay Evans, cofounder with Bonnie Adair of Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ).

SCAQ is the largest Master’s swimming program in the country. Anyone can start at any level. Goodis wasn’t a complete couch potato, but at that point he was burned out on the gym scene and thought he would give swimming a shot.

“Clay told me to show up at the pool at 5:30 in the morning,” Goodis says. “It was the dead of winter, and it was an outdoor pool. I swam 25 yards—the width of the pool. I couldn’t get to the other side of the pool. I was so exhausted, I couldn’t catch my breath. When I swam back to the other side, I [jokingly] said, ‘Call 911.’ Clay said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I came back the next morning, and I kept coming back until I found a groove and fell in love with it.”

Goodis continued his early-morning swim routine and met a great community of people. Then he started setting goals. He wanted to knock off some weight, control his type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. He picked up extra workouts. He lost the weight, his diabetes is under control and his blood pressure is excellent.

Then it was time to set swimming goals. “You’re always swimming against the clock,” he says. “I wanted to do 100 meters in 1 minute 40 seconds.”

He reached that goal and went to the next level—open water competitions in the ocean. He’s done the Pier to Pier 2-mile race between the Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach piers several times and the Waikiki Roughwater Swim.

“When things in life get me down and out, I say, ‘Hey it’s time to swim,’” he shares. “It’s saved me emotionally, physically and mentally. I always tell Clay he saved my life, and I really mean that.”

Mona Madani, MD, a primary care physician with Torrance Memorial Medical Center, couldn’t agree more. “Exercising releases endorphins that help with mood, and it is an outlet to relieve stress,” she says.

In some cases, exercising regularly can keep you off medications. It is recommended that you combine cardiovascular activity with weight-bearing exercise for 30 to 45 minutes, three to five days a week, for a total of 150 minutes a week. This routine reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It can relieve arthritis pain, increase oxygen intake and improve your overall bone health.

No matter your age or physical activity level, it’s never too late to start exercising with a purpose. What are you waiting for? It’s time to get off the couch.