Fitness for seniors: How one athlete keeps active after 80
Nicholas Bastas, 81, is an inspirational runner who reaps the benefits of an active lifestyle every day. He credits his health and positive attitude to his exercise regime, which would tire even a man half his age.
But Nick, who lives in Sydney with his wife and son, believes it’s important to keep active in old age.
“I’ve always been a competitor,” he says. “When I was a kid, I didn’t like to compete against people my own age; they were too slow. I’d run with the older kids instead. Sometimes I’d cop it from them because they didn’t want me beating them.”
Nick has always been ambitious, even when facing challenges. He moved to Australia from Egypt in 1954 when he was 15 years old and instead of going to school, his father enrolled him in technical college to study engineering.
“I speak five languages, but when I arrived here, I couldn’t speak much English. I had to study twice as much as the other boys. But nothing comes easy; you have to work hard at it,” Nick recalls.
“As I got older, I got stuck into work, but I still made time for fitness.”
A LIFETIME OF ACHIEVEMENT
In his late 30s and 40s he started competing in long-distance running competitions in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathons.
There are so many medals in Nick’s house – more than 400 at last count – his wife has banned him from bringing any more home.
If Nick wanted to boast, he would certainly deserve to. In 2017, he won the title of Australian Masters Triple Jump Champion and he’s ranked number one in the world in the 80–84 age group. At the 2018 Pan Pacific Masters Games on the Gold Coast he won the 60m (in 9.5 seconds), 100m and 200m sprints, long jump, triple jump and high jump, and came second in the javelin throw.
“I was happy coming second in the javelin – the man who beat me admitted he couldn’t run to save his life,” he says. “I also competed in the shot put, discus and heavy weight [weight throw – a round metal ball of different sizes and weight with a short chain].
"I came home from the games with 20 medals. In February this year, I competed in the NSW State Championships and won eight medals: six gold, two silver.”
OVERCOMING THE HEALTH ISSUES THAT COME WITH AGE
Like all dedicated athletes, Nick has experienced a few health setbacks along with all his wins. “I had a heart attack when I was 49 years old. Then, two years later, I had a bigger, massive heart attack and a quadruple bypass,” he says.
But this didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for life and fitness. Instead, he got up and kept running.
“It was a shock, since I was so fit, but I didn’t spend any time feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t ask why it happened. My philosophy in life is that tomorrow is another day and to just keep going. It’s like running: you just have to keep going, looking ahead, not at the people behind you, but forwards to where you’re going,” he tells.
While Nick loves the competitiveness and comradeship of running, he also knows that it plays a large part in keeping his health and wellbeing in check.
“Running keeps me calm, and it helps keep my brain alert,” he says. “I don’t forget things. I don’t need to write a shopping list, even if it’s 20 items; I won’t forget anything.
“I like to keep active,” he says during our interview, as he gets ready for his daily training session. “Every day, I get up and do my work. I’m semi-retired now. I’ve built pools my whole life, but it’s heavy, hard work. So, I’ve scaled back, troubleshooting and putting in filters and pool pumps. I work in the mornings, then I come home and take my wife for a coffee at one of our local cafés. There’s always someone to talk to there.
“Plus, I do a lot of training. I train three times a week with the UTS Norths Athletic Club,” he says. He fully participates in his club’s training regime, including the 200m, 100m and 60m sprints. He then moves on to track and field training, including long jump and triple jump, before going to the gym for weight training.
After Nick’s quadruple bypass, he took stock of his lifestyle habits and diet. While he has never smoked or drunk heavily, mainly due to his time spent in Europe when he adopted the Mediterranean way of life, he’s still careful about what he eats.
He starts each day with a glass of warm water, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of honey, “to settle my stomach”. Then he’ll have porridge and a banana, followed by a cup of tea.
“My lunch is fruit – whatever is in season – and two to three eggs,” he says. “I’ll eat two whole eggs, and just the white of the other. Then three grain biscuits with avocado – never butter.”
"I look at food and think about whether that food gives me anything positive,” he says. “If it doesn’t, it goes back on the shelf. I do have a small portion of dark chocolate every day; my heart surgeon agrees that a little of what you like is good for you.”
On training days he’ll eat lightly at midday and drink plenty of water. And he always makes sure he has a banana packed with his running kit for a boost of energy.
Nick eats meat just once a week, preferring to enjoy fish, like Atlantic salmon, and a lot of vegetables on the other nights.
“I had the nasty heart, but it hasn’t worried me too much,” he admits. He says that he is so healthy that his heart specialist doesn’t even want to see him, secure in the knowledge that Nick looks after himself daily.
“After my quadruple bypass I was shocked and worried about how long I’d be able to continue to train. But if I keep enjoying it, I’ll keep doing it.”
Words by Charmaine Yabsley
First published March 2020
EXERCISE DOS AND DON’TS
Stay motivated and reduce the risk of injury with tips from an exercise physiologist.
KEEPING ACTIVE AFTER 60
Tips on how to enjoy the benefits of exercise in your senior years.
HABITS OF ELITE ATHLETES
How to adapt the lifestyle habits of elite athletes for better health and wellbeing.
Gym machines vs free weights
Should you use free weights or weight machines? We weigh up the options.