A fascinating look at the way we age today and the extent to which we can shape the process
In What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson explores what the wild success of a ninety-four-year-old track star can tell us about how our bodies and minds age. Olga Kotelko is not your average ninety-four-year-old. She not only looks and acts like a much younger woman, she holds over twenty-three world records in track and field, seventeen in her current ninety to ninety-five category. Convinced that this remarkable woman could help unlock many of the mysteries of aging, Grierson set out to uncover what it is that's driving Olga. He considers every piece of the puzzle, from her diet and sleep habits to how she scores on various personality traits, from what she does in her spare time to her family history. Olga participates in tests administered by some of the world's leading scientists and offers her DNA to groundbreaking research trials. What emerges is not only a tremendously uplifting personal story but a look at the extent to which our health and longevity are determined by the DNA we inherit at birth, and the extent to which we can shape that inheritance. It examines the sum of our genes, opportunities, and choices, and the factors that forge the course of any life, especially during our golden years.
Olga Kotelko took up track and field at age 77. Today, she holds 26 world records, setting most of them in 2009, the year she turned 90. Over a four-year period, journalist Grierson (U-Turn) accompanied Olga to meets and practices as well as to appointments with physiologists, geneticists, trainers, and others as they studied Olga's extraordinary achievements. Analyzing everything from Olga's life history, diet and daily routine, to her genetic makeup, brain, personality, bone density, aerobic capacity, muscles, sleep patterns, memory, and more, they found that although Olga is an outlier, there could be more people like her given the right circumstances. As Grierson explains, studies show how older athletes benefit from having started their sport later in life without the accumulated damage from early overexertion, and highlights conditions that worked in Olga's favor her active childhood on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, the way she has always integrated movement into her everyday life, and her intuition about her body. The middle-aged, fairly sedentary Grierson compares his exercise routines and his DNA to Olga's, portraying their growing friendship as he describes the mysteries of longevity and extols the benefits of exercise. Grierson's fellow boomers have much to learn from Olga's example, given that scientists now think that longevity is 70% 75% lifestyle and only 25% genetic.