Many people look at competitions as a way to compare their abilities with others, but one 96-year-old man in Palm Beach Gardens is only competing with himself. George Heller, a spry, active Jewish resident of La Posada (a premier senior living community) says that every time he works out or competes in wellness challenges he tries to outdo himself and beat his previous records. He always focuses on self-improvement. From daily exercise goals to NuStep Challenges to rowing competitions and race-walking marathons, Heller has set personal and public records for the last several decades. Though not a famous athlete, he is an inspiration to others around him.
“I have not always been a gym rat and haven’t always gone to such great lengths to take care of my body,” said Heller. “At the age of 55, I was grossly overweight from eating poorly and not being active enough. At the time, I was traveling a lot selling innovative medical supplies, many that helped cardiologists, one of which was one of first battery-operated defibrillator. As I watched other people prepare for open heart surgery, I thought to myself, ‘George that could you be you if you don’t turn your life around and create better, healthier habits for yourself.’ I began working out and eating nutritional food, and I lost 100 pounds that first year. I started with jogging, but I found that race walking was easier on the body and a better alternative for me. I trained and competed all over the world: Puerto Rico, Australia, Oregon and more. I set many records at the time, and I’ll bet you didn’t know the longest race in the Olympics is a 50K race walk.”
Heller decided to race walk in the New York Marathon in his late 60s and set a record for his age group. He stopped competing in the 70’s, but still views exercise as obligatory and spends one hour each day doing some form of cardio – whether cycling or using a rowing machine. Burning anywhere from 600 to 900 calories during a one-hour session, he will either ride approximately 23 miles or row approximately 5,000 meters. He discovered his love for rowing last year and has since acquired a rowing machine for his apartment, in addition to the one he uses at the La Posada wellness center. He even competed in a rowing competition run by local police. He finished with the highest record in his division. He rowed 1,000 meters in a mere seven minutes and 55.8 seconds, a new 2017 American record – a fact confirmed by authorities at Concept2. This year, he is proud of himself for completing 8,000 meters without stopping.
“No one is going to do the exercises for you, and you just have to find the motivation to do it,” said Heller. “For me, music helps break up the monotony. I YouTube songs that bring back all sorts of memories – Neil Diamond, Josh Grobin, Adele – you name it. Music helps me experience good feelings, happy thoughts and gives me that drive I need. The one thing I have always valued and worked toward is endurance. Having the right music and the right attitude all helps me attain endurance.”
In addition to rowing and cycling, Heller participates in a challenge each year that is very close to his heart. After losing his wife who lived with dementia in her final years, he sought to help raise awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Association by participating in the NuStep Challenge for The Longest Day. This summer in one day, he completed 11,004 steps on the NuStep in just under 100 minutes.
“Staying active and working out makes me feel energized and full of life,” said Heller. “My 97th birthday will be in April, and I’m shooting to live to at least 100. I come from a family with a history of poor cardiovascular health. I must be doing something right to have lived this long and maintained the ability to hit the gym. I do work out with a heart monitor, so I can make sure I stay within my zone. Being fit and healthy isn’t just about being free of diseases or physically in shape, it is about creating a situation where you can continue living the way you want to live.”