Over 28,000 runners from around the world challenged the rolling hills through Boston on April 18th. In its 115th running Boston has become the temple for runners. It is the oldest marathon and the only one in which you must qualify. Thousands of volunteers and over a million loud citizens support the celebration of movement. Those of us who wear a military jersey feel the home team advantage on Patriots Day. I represent the US Air Force.

As the lead in an initiative to create healthier running in soldiers I must challenge myself every day as we compel others to do the same. As we age and have more added responsibility in our work and home lives, we constantly fight the tide of declining fitness and so called “normal aging”.

Modern medicine is supreme in treatment of acute illness. We fail in combating normal aging. Technology, laboratory, and wonder drugs have little use here. We must teach the patient to get the most out of themselves and join them in a continuous struggle with a dogged enemy... the aging process.

Dr George Sheehan understood that each of us is “an athlete”. He wrote in 1983: “Man is a whole, a unity of mind-body-spirit. And the whole is greater then the sum of its parts. Holistic medicine has been accepted by those who believe that two plus two can equal five. Those individuals who are trying to get the most out of themselves are …the athletes. Now people with chronic disease want to test their limits and act like healthy human beings.”

As physicians we must embrace the original meaning of holism: the connection of mind, body and environment, the treatment of the whole person. We must teach patients that health is not a factor of the quantity or quality of the medical care, but on each of us embracing holism.

The approach teaches the physician to view every patient as an athlete. Nowhere is this more urgent than in our care of the aging patient. Rest promotes rust and deterioration. We must teach patients that normal is not optimal. We need to teach the finer points of exercise physiology and nutrition in aging, their effects on prevention and treatment of disease, and the limits and risks of exercise.

George Sheehan observed “Most people live nowhere near their physical limits. They settle for accelerated aging, an early and precipitous fall. They give aging a bad name. Too many people entering their forties are performing at physiological levels more appropriate to somebody sixty years old.”

I had the privilege of having an amazing discussion with Stanford Professor and one of the leading Geriatricians in the world Dr. Walter Bortz and his wife Ruth Ann. He is an 80 plus year old marathoner as is his wife who was the oldest female runner at age 81 with a knee replacement. He coined a term called the “Disuse Syndrome” 30 years ago and just published a book exploring the factors of healthy aging, most which are in your control. Walter has written prolifically in his long career on the perils of our new fascination with technology in medicine. He and his wife took a pilgrimage to Calcutta to visit Mother Teresa and the Home for the Dying. Mother Teresa’s advice : “Just love them.”

Human performance declines 5 percent per decade after the 30th birthday. It does not take extreme amounts of time or effort for our patients to stay on the slow 5 percent slope- four good hours of whole body movement a week will achieve it. We must teach our patients not to be happy with the precipitous fall. Normal should be viewed as the best one can be at any age. Our aging citizens have discarded what is not useful and what is trivial in their lives. They are enjoying the fruits of many years of work. We owe it to them to give them the opportunity to live these years in the spirit of their childhood, to play, to exercise, and live these years as peak experience.

Frank Buckles who just passed peacefully at 110 embodied these principles. “You must stress the body” Frank would say. At 103 he disregarded his physician’s advice to rest and not get on his tractor to farm. He also exercised without a shirt in the freezing cold after sojourns to the Martinsburg Spa back in the 50’s. As a survivor of a POW camp, he understood this at an unconscious level.

I also had the honor of speaking with Harvard Professors and leading scientists Dr. Daniel Lieberman and Irene Davis on the topic of barefoot running at the American Medical Athletic Association Annual Conference. Our 2 hour session was followed by over an hour of questions with an intrigued audience. Dr. Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist who has now become the world’s leader in healthy running. Why? He quotes in his talk “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. He had amazing slides and stories from his trips around the world connecting healthy eating, living, running, and aging to how we evolved as the supreme long distance traveler on the planet.

Dr Bortz found me after the talk and relayed a story of how he coined the term “Disuse Syndrome” after a short period where his leg was casted and quickly atrophied. None of the medical specialists could explain this phenomena. Dr. Bortz has spent the last 30 years researching , writing, and explaining why this occured. He applauded our mission of trying to get humans to unbrace their feet on a daily basis.

We showed our spiritual video on Barefoot Running Style now posted on www.trtreads.org which brought applause from an audience who started the day skeptics but I sense now believed they were part of a growing re-evolution. How did the race go? Still staying on the 5% slope. I’m 44 now and ran 2.37:00  for 165th place overall, and 15th in the 40 plus group. Our Air Force team finished second by a hair.

Congrats on strong finishers by local runners:

  • Jared Matlick, Shepherdstown 2:59:04 1381 place
  • Bill Bondurant, Charles Town 3.15:44 4086 place
  • Missy Price, Harpers Ferry 3.36:27 9512 place
  • Jen Burkhardt, Charles Town 3.40:37 10732 place