Fitness experts hail Nyad's feat as reward for fit life

Mon Sep 9, 2013 4:03am EDT
 
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Diana Nyad became the first person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage, baby boomer-aged fitness experts greeted the 64-year-old's achievement with pride and delight but not disbelief.

The aging body, they said, is capable of more than previously thought.

"Today's 60-to-65 is not what it was one or two generations ago," said Dr. Angela Smith, an orthopedic surgeon and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

"I thought my very active grandmother was fabulous because at 60 she could still touch her toes. Now fabulous is swimming from Cuba to Florida. That's a huge difference."

Smith is a competitive skater on the verge of 60, which places her, like Nyad, firmly among the estimated 78 million baby boomers who, defined as the group born between 1946 and 1964, make up about 26 percent of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census reports.

"Bruises take a lot longer to heal, and it's harder to build and maintain muscle but, guess what, you get it back," Smith said about boomers. "We know that you can maintain a lot more muscle mass than we thought."

She said mental toughness, surely a factor in Nyad's success, comes with experience.

"We know that older people make mental connections in ways different from 20-something athletes," Smith said. "They use strategy, technique better."   Continued...

 
U.S. long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, who completed her swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida, yesterday, speaks at a news conference on Stock Island, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity