How to Build Your Own Centenarian Decathlon

By Lifestyle Medicine Staff

How to Build Your Own Centenarian Decathlon

 

We all know about the Olympic Decathlon (ten track and field events held across two consecutive days), but have you heard about the Centenarian Decathlon?

Stanford alumni Peter Attia, MD, coined the term Centenarian Decathlon as the ten physical tasks you want to be able to do at age 100 (or in the final decade of life).

Everyone’s list is likely different, but the following is Dr. Attia’s personal list from his book Outlive. The list includes both common exercises as well as functional movements and lifestyle actions that most of us take for granted in middle age.

Dr. Peter Attia’s Centenarian Decathlon:

  1. Hike 1.5 miles on a hilly trail
  2. Get up off the floor using a maximum of one arm for support
  3. Pick up a 30-pound child from the floor
  4. Carry two five-pound bags of groceries for five block.
  5. Lift a 20-pound suitcase into the overhead compartment of a plane
  6. Balance on one leg for 30 seconds with eyes open. (Bonus: eyes closed for 15 seconds)
  7. Have sex
  8. Climb four flights of stairs in three minutes
  9. Open a jar
  10. Do thirty consecutive jump-rope skips

“There is a difference between lifespan and healthspan. Lifespan is the number of years you’re on this planet, but healthspan is the number of years that you’re healthy—being able to live independently and partake in activities you enjoy,” says Jonathan Bonnet, MD, MPH, and Clinical Associate (Affiliated) Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. The Centenarian Decathlon requires a thoughtful analysis of what ‘health’ means for you as you age. Creating a personalized Centenarian Decathlon can serve as a powerful motivator and will help inform what types of exercises need to be done now in order to achieve those goals in the future.”

 Creating your own Centenarian Decathlon

Think about what you value in life. Is it being able to play with kids or grandkids? Traveling? Hiking? Sailing? Creating delicious meals in the kitchen? Identifying what is most important in your life will inform which activities will be on your personal Centenarian Decathlon.

“When creating your list of 10 functional activities, pair them with exercises that cultivate the type of abilities you would need to enjoy the activities you love,” says Dr. Bonnet. “For example, if you want to be able to play with a grandchild, being able to ‘lift 30 pounds from a squat position’ would be a valuable objective, as it would mimic picking up a small child from the floor.”

Here are examples of activities and values for a Centenarian Decathlon.

If you:

  • Enjoy bike rides with your spouse – Ride a bike for 1 hour.
  • Live in the snow and value being independent – Shovel snow off a driveway.
  • Enjoy playing golf with friends – Play 18 holes of golf.
  • Enjoy walking your dog – Walk 10,000 steps in a day.
  • Enjoy international travel – Lift a 20-pound suitcase into the overhead compartment. Climb 30 stairs without stopping.
  • Enjoy cooking – Lift a cast iron skillet with one hand. Carry two five-pound bags of groceries up four flights of stairs. Open a jar.
  • Enjoy being in nature – Hike up a steep hill for 10 minutes, operate a kayak, or whatever your favorite outdoor activity is.
  • Enjoy swimming in a pool – Tread water for 10 minutes. Get out of a pool without a ladder.
  • Enjoy dancing with your family in the kitchen – Perform 30 jumping jacks in one set for aerobic endurance.
  • Enjoy playing with children – Deadlift 30 pounds (to lift a young child from their crib or the floor). Get up off the floor using only one arm for support.

Lastly, it’s important to include activities that meet the following four fitness goals, which are important for healthy aging.

Fitness Goals Important for Healthy Aging:

1) Build muscle strength by doing activities such as:

  • Perform 10 push-ups in one set.
  • Perform 20 squats in one set.
  • Perform 10 bicep curls with 20-pound weights.

2) Cultivate stability, flexibility, mobility, and balance by doing activities such as:

  • Complete 30 minutes of Yoga or Pilates.
  • Walk up and down stairs with feet pointed perfectly forward (this is a sign of good ankle mobility).
  • Do a plank in perfect form for one minute (any core workout).

3) Increase maximal aerobic capacity (i.e., VO2 max or maximum oxygen consumption)

You can increase VO2 max with interval workouts where you give roughly 90 percent effort for a short amount of time (ideally 3-5 minutes), followed by a recovery period. Shorter intervals can be used initially to increase VO2 max, however, the duration of sessions should be increased for optimal results.

Examples include:

  • Perform 30 jumping jacks in 40 seconds, followed by 30-40 second recovery period (work up to repeating 6 times).
  • Perform 3 minutes of stair climbing, followed by a 3-minute recovery (work up to repeating five times).
  • Perform 4 minutes of interval running followed by a 4-minute recovery (work up to repeating)

4) Improve aerobic efficiency

You can improve aerobic efficiency with longer duration, steady state physical activity. These workouts are done at a much lower intensity, where you can hold a conversation, but not sing a song. The absolute intensity will vary depending on fitness, but could include activities, such as:

  • Walking 3-4 miles in 1 hour
  • Jogging for 30 minutes while maintaining a conversation
  • Riding a bike for 45 minutes at a 12-14 mph pace

“Each of these areas is important, though having a high VO2 max will generally allow one to do most things on a Decathlon list. If you can jog, that means you can hike. If you can hike, that means you can walk for three miles. If you can walk for three miles, you can likely go up a flight of stairs, and so on,” says Dr. Bonnet. “It’s not that VO2 max is magical by itself, it’s that it requires a certain amount of strength, stability, and aerobic efficiency to be able to attain a high VO2 max level.”

 

Now, take a moment to make YOUR list of 10 activities you’d like to do when you’re 100 (or in your final decade). Be sure to have a mix of strength, stability, VO2 max, and aerobic efficiency activities. Add a column to the right to note why this activity is valuable to you.

For example, at age 100, I want to:

  • Deadlift at least 50 pounds | in order to pick a suitcase up off the ground
  • Do a body weight step up | in order to be able to get up off the floor unassisted
  • Climb 4 flights of stairs in 3 minutes | in order to walk independently (e.g., hike up a hill, walk up a broken escalator at an airport, etc.) without requiring an elevator or ramp
  • Walk 2 miles in 1 hour | in order to walk my dog every evening

Continue until you’ve reached 10 activities.

Centenarian Decathlon is a Framework for Longevity

Now that you have your list, you need to make a plan regarding how you’re going to achieve the 10 goals listed on your personal Centenarian Decathlon. Since we naturally lose strength and aerobic capacity as we age, whatever it is we want to be able to do at age 100, we need to be doing much more now.

In his book, Dr. Attia writes: “Over the next thirty or forty years, your muscle strength will decline by about 8 to 17 per­cent per decade—accelerating as time goes on. So, if you want to pick up that thirty-pound grandkid or great-grandkid when you’re eighty, you’re going to have to be able to lift about fifty to fifty-five pounds now. Without hurting yourself. Can you do that?”

It’s time to ask ourselves, if we want to attain these 10 goals, what daily actions must we do now to get there?

Look at your list of 10 activities and add a column: What do I need to do now to be able to do this activity at age 100? Include the area of fitness and be sure all four areas are addressed at least once in your list of 10.

Note: a general rule of thumb that can be used to estimate approximate strength loss over 50 years is that the load at age 40 should be roughly 150 percent of what the intended goal is at 90 years old.

For example, at age 100, I want to:

  • Deadlift 30 pounds | in order to pick up a suitcase off the ground | so, now I need to deadlift 75 pounds (muscle strength)
  • Do a body weight step up | in order to be able to get up off the floor unassisted | so, now I need to do a step up holding dumbbells equal to 50 percent of my body weight (stability, balance, flexibility, mobility, muscle strength)
  • Climb 4 flights of stairs in 3 minutes | in order to walk independently (e.g., hike up a hill, walk up a broken escalator at an airport, etc.) without requiring an elevator or ramp | so, now I need to do climb 10 flights of stairs in 3 minutes (VO2 max)
  • Walk 2 miles in 1 hour | in order to walk my dog every evening | so, now I need to walk 5 miles in 1.5 hours two times per week (aerobic efficiency)

Continue until you’ve reached 10 activities.

Revisit this list every five years to update the column: Am I on track? What do I need to do now to be able to do this activity at age 100?

There you have it! Now you have a personalized framework for longevity and a specific pathway to win your very own Centenarian Decathlon. Be sure to take out this list on your 100th birthday and try out each activity!

“Having a personalized Centenarian Decathlon is valuable because it translates activities that matter most to you into tangible metrics that can be tracked over time,” says Dr. Bonnet. “While we may not be competing for a gold medal at the Olympics, the Centenarian Decathlon promises something better. A lifetime of being able to do the things we love with the people (and pets) that matter most.”