Lesson #4 on Living Longer and Staying Sharp

This article in Parade Magazine (Dec. 28, 2013) both humbled me and inspired me. So much so that I am serializing her lessons here in my blog.

Ninety-four-year-old Olga Kotelko, a retired schoolteacher from West Vancouver, Canada, could be the poster child for late bloomers. Seventeen years ago, at 77, she entered her first “masters” track and field competition, for participants age 35 and over. At 85, she knocked off nearly 20 world records in a single year. Today, she is the only woman in the world over 90 still long-jumping and high-jumping competitively.

Now for the fourth of six smart habits of super agers. Here is Olga’s Lesson #3.

Lesson #4: Be a Creature of Habit

Olga’s running buddy, Christa Bortignon, 76, has set seven world records this year en route to the 2013 World Female Masters Athlete award. Without Olga as a mentor, she says, “I wouldn’t have even known masters track existed.”

There is no book, you will notice, called The Seven Ephemeral Whims of Highly Successful People. The reason: Habits work.

“What you have to do is just get yourself to the track,” says Christa . There, she’ll dial up Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 on the iPod, circle the track twice, then jog it once.

It’s as if Christa is turning the tumblers on a lock: Those small familiar actions cue the body that it’s showtime. “Your muscles have a memory,” she says. “They know.”

Under stress, people tend to fall back on routines—whether healthy or unhealthy. In a recent experiment, University of Southern California psychologist Wendy Wood, Ph.D., one of the world’s top experts in habit formation, found that students around exam time slipped into autopilot. It was habits—not cravings, as you might expect—that determined their food choices, for better or worse.

Olga’s own weekly calendar is ­anchored in rituals. Her mornings typically include a stretching routine; she adheres to a predictable bedtime. If it’s Tuesday, she is out bowling; if it’s Thursday, she is likely making pierogi in the basement of her church.

Here is Olga herself – be inspired!

Olga’s Lesson #3. Return tomorrow for Olga’s Lesson #5.