We are a society obsessed with youthfulness and longevity. Hence the appeal of reading a book like Bruce Grierson’s What Makes Olga Run: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives. I must admit right off the hop that I thorough enjoyed reading this book last year for the GPL Monday Morning book club. Some of the criticisms of the group included that it had too many references to scientific studies, and that Olga herself didn’t have enough of a voice/presence in the book; but we all agreed that it was thought-provoking and engaging to read about the miraculous woman that was Olga Kotelko and the possible explanations for how she was able to physically accomplish what she did at her late age.
I found the book so intriguing because we are often searching for that one magic element that will give us a long, happy life whether it be daily exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep, etc. As Grierson takes the reader on a journey through various physical and mental tests that Olga and her super-senior friends undergo, we learn that what makes Olga (and others her age) run, is a complex combination of a multitude of factors. Grierson spends some time throughout the book comparing himself, who at 40 years her junior, is less physically fit than Olga. The difference? Even when Olga isn’t exercising, she is constantly moving. Grierson on the other hand, is victim to the modern-day lifestyle of hitting the gym 3 times a week, then spending the rest of his time in front of a computer screen. As he puts it “the idea that fitness is something that can be packaged into forty-five-minute bundles taken like a super-pill a few times a week, thereby fulfilling your exercise allotment, may be a kind of mass delusion that only a minority of wise souls like Olga have escaped.” How true that rings for many of us.
This book also raised a good discussion at the meeting about quality of life as we age and what a subjective experience that is for different people. It made me really start to think about what choices I want to make when I’m older and facing my own cognitive and physical decline. If you’re interested in some tips for healthy aging check out these recommendations from the National Institutes of Health. I think Grierson and Olga would agree with the list, but as the book outlines an entire chapter on the subject, they might also add that having a positive personality also plays a major factor in how well we age.
Overall this was one of my favourite books in 2014 and I highly recommend giving it a read. Otherwise, check of some of these similar titles: