Senior Athletes: Advocates for wellness

Greg Tooker Photo/Bonnie Adams
Greg Tooker
Photo/Bonnie Adams



By G, Gregory Tooker, CPCU

The debate about national health care rolls on and on. The fact remains, however, that nearly every first world nation on the face of the planet considers access to affordable health care a basic right. The United States has been wrestling with this enormous challenge for years.

Unfortunately, we are home to some of the most unfit people on earth. Poor diet and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are mostly to blame. Nearly one person in 10 suffers from some form of diabetes. Many cases are of the type two variety, potentially reversible through improved diet and moderate exercise, but often patients opt for the easier but far more expensive pharmaceutical approach.

A wellness-oriented approach is often the more practical and less costly solution to many health challenges. Americans are notorious for back problems of one sort or another. Long stretches at the work station without breaks, aggravating commutes and nightly couch time add up to weak backs and happy chiropractors. Prescription pain killers present another potentially ominous challenge.

Many of us, including myself, have made the decision to pick up the gauntlet of wellness and change our lives for the better. Healthy eating and daily exercise have become a part of our being. When it comes to the question of affordable health care, however, that is not enough. We must become disciples of wellness if our country is to avoid future financial catastrophe as it struggles to shoulder the explosive costs of caring for an aging, unhealthy population. Senior athletes must speak out forcefully if we are to reverse damaging cultural patterns.

What can one individual do, you ask, to halt this seemingly unstoppable juggernaut? As senior athletes, our visibility is high. Two women who have contributed significantly to wellness promotion and society in general illustrate the difference one person can make.

Jan Holmquist is a senior athlete who did not lace up her running shoes until the half century mark. Now, she is a national champion in her age group, president of the New England 65+ Runners Club and assistant to the president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, helping assure the health of our four-legged runners as well.

Heidi Joyce is a senior athlete who lives and breathes the wellness doctrine. Heidi has directed the wellness promotion initiative for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for years. Its success has made it a national model for health and fitness programs. In what little spare time Heidi has, she executes championship slalom runs down the mountains of Vermont.

There is a large generational bubble known as the Baby Boomers working its way through our society. They are like a tsunami hitting the health care shoreline. Short of large scale wellness improvement among this group, the Medicare dikes will be swept out to sea. The escalating costs cannot be absorbed without dramatic funding increases. At a time when many seniors grudgingly admit their retirement planning hasn’t been realistic, how will they meet these increased costs?

The only solution is to reduce health risk through wellness improvement. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns, under Heidi Joyce’s guidance, introduced positive wellness incentives that resulted in reduced risk, healthier folks of all ages and REDUCED insurance cost.  As “mature” athletes and fit seniors, we must speak out with force and clarity. We need the active support of both public and private health industry resources if this wellness revolution is to take root and prosper. Given the proper incentives, nearly every challenged individual safely capable of reducing his or her wellness-related health risks will make the effort.

The opportunity for dramatic improvement is before us, waiting for someone to take the baton. Healthy seniors, we challenge you to start the race, passing it to the next generation and thereafter, until we hit the finish line of national senior wellness. Who among us are better advocates to champion this noble cause?

G, “Greg” Tooker is a runner of 40 years and is a MA Senior Games officer and board director. Formerly a distance guy, he converted to track at age 70. He competes in the Senior Games in several states and at the nationals. Greg lives with his family in Wrentham, Mass.