In his highly regarded presentation entitled “Fitness and the Fountain of Youth,” Charles M. Williams, PhD, lays out a simple plan for people of all ages to begin or continue a lifestyle of aerobic exercise and good nutrition. Through the use of inspiring success stories and remarkable photos of world-champion athletes, ages 60 to 100+, Dr. Williams successfully demonstrates that physically active men and women are fascinating people who are as amazingly youthful in appearance as they are in their deeds – especially inspiring because most began their athletic ventures at improbably advanced years, and some at appallingly bad stages of ill health arising from sedentary life-styles.
We sat down with Charles to discuss his mission, goals, and his outlook on wellness, nutrition and physical fitness.
Charles on his mission, “My main mission is getting older people – in fact, people of any age – doing things that promote their wellness. Mostly, this involves fitness activities that they’re not yet involved in. My point is that fitness and wellness are intimately linked together. Wellness cannot be bought; you can’t be given it; you can’t inherit it. The only way to get wellness is to commit yourself to earning it. You have to be responsible for your own actions.”
Charles on an unsettling revelation, “I became involved with this mission because I have read entirely too many obituaries concerning my own classmates, people of my approximate age and many who are considerably younger, who are deteriorating from literally avoiding anything associated with wellness. They’ve been counting on medicine to bail them out, and it’s not going to happen.”
Charles on how he started, “I became involved at age 54 when I decided to take up running because my doctor told me I had a cholesterol problem. I found running very, very difficult at first, but gained encouragement the more I did it. I eventually took up competitive running and at age 60 ended up in the in the national championships for U.S.A. Masters Track and Field.”
Charles on role models, “I’ve discovered that, no matter what age you are, if somebody is older than you and can do something that you can’t do, you’re tempted to try doing it yourself. You want to grow up to be like them, and you haven’t got an excuse for not giving it a try. I like to promote the idea that older people can be fitness role models for their children and grandchildren.”
“The whole point is they’re doing it. Or they’re trying to do it. Especially important now that we know that type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes is a lifestyle problem that can be prevented by your own actions. You can prevent type 2 diabetes by taking up vigorous exercise, eating right, and maintaining a healthy life style – and doing it diligently. You don’t have to compete in order to achieve. But you do have to challenge yourself. If you don’t challenge yourself continuously, you will just continue on the same path you’ve been following all along. Your efforts won’t do you much good.”
Charles on barriers, “The biggest barrier, the one I hear the most, is ‘I’m too old to do this.’ And the truth is, I say to them, ‘If you tell me you’re too old to do something, you’re exactly correct. But if you keep your mouth shut and give it a try, you’re liable get one of those Wow! I did it moments when you achieve some modest gain in your own performance. And those ‘Wow I did it moments are what make life well worth living. Wow! I did it moments are very personal because they deal with you as an individual and are based upon your own achievements; they’re not based upon somebody else’s.”
Charles on excuses, “Stop making excuses why you can’t do something. Fitness is not athleticism. Fitness is about challenging yourself physically and mentally. Your opponent is yourself, not someone else. The thrill of triumphing over your own inabilities will give you an emotional boost. And that’s something to feel good about.
Charles on easing back into a fitness routine, “You should get back in shape gradually. The worst thing you can do is to try to re-create the athletic prowess of your youth and end up fracturing yourself. Take it easy at first by trying something that you that you haven’t tried before.”
Charles on prescription drugs, “I feel that today, prescription drugs are relied on far too much when it comes to the wellness equation. Especially painkillers. Painkillers mask the pain. The pain comes from somewhere. Figure out what it is, and fix that. Your body and your mind are based upon balance. And when you’re doing something wrong, something else has to balance it – and that something can make things far worse.”
Charles on positive change, “Our natural tendency is to continue doing things we already know how to do. Instead, we should tempt ourselves with new challenges and new ideas. We’ll be refreshed by the realization that there’s something positive in life beyond what we’ve already experienced. And that’s exciting!”
Charles Williams, a professor emeritus of Computer Information Systems at Georgia State University, is a nationally recognized competitive race walker and former runner. Awarded a PhD in computer sciences from the University of Texas at Austin in 1967, an MS from Stanford in 1963 and a BS in physics from the Virginia Military Institute in 1953, he waited until retirement to author his first book, The Crash of TWA Flight 260, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2010. Married with three children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandchild, he and his wife live in Atlanta.