Peeling off the years through runningAge is but a number for those who are living healthy lives. Epidemiological research has shown that those who maintain the right health habits live, on average, seven to 11 years longer than people who do not. As part of a series, the JoongAng Ilbo would like to introduce you to people who are living full and vital lives in their golden years. Wishing you a healthy 2006. ― Ed.
Park Yeong-seok, 77, is a marathon runner. Last year, with his wife Kang Seong-jin, 67, he completed a full 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles) in six hours and eight minutes. In April, Mr. Park and Ms. Kang are planning to participate in the Boston marathon, the ultimate run for amateurs.
“I dream of completing a full marathon when I’m 100 years old,” said Mr. Park, who is the honorary chairman of the Seoul Marathon Club, an association for amateur marathon runners. “Isn’t it wonderful just thinking of it?”
Into his 50s, Mr. Park was a portly man of average build ― 165 centimeters (5.4 feet) tall and weighing 70 kilograms (154.3 pounds) with a 96-centimeter (38-inch) waist ― but he suffered from chronic indigestion, and took pills for his condition for 20 years.
He started running in the spring of 1979, thanks to his wife, who urged him on by saying, “I don’t want to be a widow. Start some exercise.” When he first ran, he felt pain in his knees just running 200 meters around a playground. But after three months, he was able to do 10 laps easily.
“After I started running, I felt surprising changes in my body. I quit taking digestive pills after three months and my beer belly and constant colds were gone after six months,” Mr. Park said.
He steadily increased the distance he ran ― it took six months to reach four kilometers a day, and three years to get to 10 kilometers. These days, he goes out to the Han River at 7 a.m. after drinking cold water and runs 14 kilometers, taking about two hours including warm ups and finishing exercises.
Ms. Kang has been running for 17 years now, 10 years less than her husband. She had been taking pills to lower her blood pressure for seven years before she started, but three months into running she quit taking the medicine. “High blood pressure is a disease that you get because of poor blood circulation, so running is the best medicine,” said Mr. Park.
Mr. Park has completed a full marathon 32 times since 1997, when he made his first attempt. His shortest time was four hours and 54 minutes. “The time gets worse because my speed drops as I get older, but I don’t care.” His most recent run was the five-kilometer “Midnight Run” held on Dec. 31, which he completed in 37 minutes.
Thanks to running in general and participating in marathons, his health is as good as a man in his 40s. His blood sugar, cholesterol and blood platelet levels, and blood pressure were all normal in his last test three months ago. He now weighs 61 kilograms and his waist measures 80 centimeters.
Also, confounding the prediction of an orthopedist that he would suffer from joint degeneration, his bones too are as healthy as a 40-year-old according to X-rays.
“I feel proud of myself when I go to a public bath. My muscles are strong and I have the correct body posture ― it can’t be compared to other senior citizens of my age,” Mr. Park said. “As you get older, you should manage your health thoroughly. If you act like an old man, aging progresses rapidly.”
Mr. Park doesn’t just run. He studies posture and running methods so that he can run more effectively with less effort. This is all part of his advance preparation to fulfill his dream of completing a marathon on his centennial.
by Park Tae-kyun