[Case Study] The Secret To Health & Longevity & Doing Your First Pull-Up At 65 Years Young.
When it comes to fitness, age doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. Quite the opposite, Phil McDougall learns after interviewing Joan Briton.
A few years back, when I was still living in London, a client asked me to teach his mother Hardstyle kettlebell technique; this was how I met Joan Brinton. Joan was visiting from Seattle for a few days and was up for a challenge, so I gave her an intensive three-hour Zero-To-Hero workshop. Throughout the workshop, I was constantly impressed by Joan’s incredible level of strength, mobility, endurance and coordination.
She picked up the techniques as quickly as any keen twentysomething. I learned that Joan does pull-ups and goes walking for hours on a daily basis. She is 71 years old. When I think of Joan, questions flood my mind. I selfishly wonder what her secrets to maintaining such amazing strength and longevity are, in the hope that my wife or I might one day be as awesome. Joan kindly agreed.
Joan, you’re an inspiration to us all. Here’s what we want to know—have you always done pull-ups?
Firstly, I don’t think of myself as special in any way, and if I can be strong, I believe anyone can. Case in point, I did my first pull-up at age 65. An advantage of being older is having more time to exercise.
That’s incredible! Have you always been athletic?
I wasn’t especially athletic, but I was active growing up. My bike was my favorite toy, and kids walked more in those days. I started doing some floor exercises at age 26 and began running when I was 33 after the birth of our second child. I am very moderate; I never ran fast or far, but I was very consistent. I ran three miles, four times a week, in about 30 minutes. I did this for 17 years. Any other strength I achieved was from taking care of our three children and the house. When I turned 50, I bought an exercise machine because I was reading about the value of maintaining muscle strength. I did this for a couple of years combined with the running.
I understand you do a fair bit of walking too, right?
I switched to walking when we moved because there are beautiful walking options along Puget Sound in Seattle. My husband was working from home more and could come with me. Walking is great because it feels good to be out in the fresh air. If you have the proper clothes, you can walk in any weather. In my 50s, I began stretching before my floor exercises. I put my routine together after reading Bob Anderson’s well-known book Stretching.
How did you first come to learn more about exercise?
When I turned 60, I found the book AgeDefying Fitness by Marilyn Moffat and Carole Lewis, and I began using free weights. The book also made me more aware of the importance of balance. I brush my teeth standing on one leg for 60 seconds and then switch and do the same on the other side. That took a bit of concentration at first, but now I can stand on one leg for as long as I want.
You’ve inadvertently hit a number of key messages and good habits that we, as professionals, are always trying to convey to our clients. What does your daily routine look like?
I sleep eight hours a night. Every morning, when I first wake up, I put my towel on the floor to do stretching. It just feels good. I follow that with exercises five days a week, resting the other two days. This consists mostly of core exercises, plank and side planks and various floor exercises. I do pull-ups and push-ups four days a week. Day one is four sets of 12 pull-ups followed by four sets of 20 push-ups. Day two is a rest day. Day three is three sets of 12 pull-ups and 20 push-ups. Day four is two sets. Day five is one set.
People always struggle with increasing their pull-up numbers. How did you go from not being able to do any at the age of 65 to being a Calisthenics Queen just six years later?
I always found them impossible, but, inspired by my son, Michael, I bought a pull-up bar for our house and just kept trying. I would jump up to the top and let myself down slowly. I did this regularly for a while. Then one day, after that original jump pull-up, I went back up without a jump. I couldn’t believe I did it! Then, moderately and slowly, I increased the numbers. My first rep still involves a jump. I think it’s a confidence builder. Pull-ups are still a challenge, and I don’t plan to go above 12, but I’d like to keep doing that amount for as long as I can.
Consistency and frequency, another great lesson. What other kinds of exercise do you do?
I also do a few exercises with free weights in our basic home gym. My husband and I walk 30 to 60 minutes at a moderate pace at least five days a week. I find it relaxing and renewing, and it also provides an opportunity to talk, think or just let your mind wander. If my husband is unavailable, I walk the route on my own.The key to longevity and health? Live with gratitude. Click To Tweet
What motivates you to keep up this amazing routine?
Exercise is the magic bullet. It makes me feel good and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. My problem with not exercising comes when I’m traveling or have houseguests. I need to find a solution because at my age I lose condition in just a couple weeks. I can always walk, but exercising is harder when I’m not at home. Consistency is important. I never felt competitive in what I was doing, I just did it for me.
Can you tell me about your diet habits?
I try to be moderate in all things. I like all vegetables and salmon. I also eat meat and love to cook a roast chicken. We shop at the farmers’ market during the summer, but mostly at the local grocery the rest of the year. I have a sweet tooth, which I try to indulge in moderation. At home, I just drink water and tea. I particularly enjoy having a pot of tea each afternoon when I’m at home. I also have a glass or two of wine on the weekend.
What nutrition advice would you offer a family member?
Follow your appetite. Make the best choices you can and enjoy what you are eating. I would also encourage everyone to cook. If you can read, you can cook. Cooking at home is more economical, nutritious and then there is that inviting aroma.
In your opinion, what is the key to longevity and health?
Live with gratitude. I can always find things for which to be thankful. Feeling grateful is a gift to myself, and it brings joy.
JOAN’S GOLDEN WORKOUT ROUTINE
WARM-UP (do the following 3x)
• 5 Get back-ups: Touch your belly to the floor, stand back up
• 5 Face-the-wall squats
• 6 Forward and 6 backward baby/leopard crawls
WORKOUT (do the following 5x)
• 10 Swings per arm
• 5 Goblet squats
• 2 Get-ups per arm
• Set of 5 jump pull-ups (jump or pull yourself up, very slowly lower back down)
• March or skip in place for 45 seconds