Gries entered his first “exotic event” at age 60, a race from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney. He continued the thrill-seeking over the next two decades — climbing 22 peaks in such diverse locales as South America and Antarctica, cycling from Mongolia through the Gobi Desert to Beijing and participating in the Marathon des Sables, a six-day race across the Sahara Desert.
When he was seriously injured in a cycling accident last year, he recovered in six months instead of the expected year and got right back on his bike to tour Arizona’s Sabino Canyon.
As he approaches his 80th birthday, Gries is still planning adventures (a hike through the Italian Alps is on next year’s calendar) and averaging three hours of exercise a day.
“Don’t follow my example,” he warns. “Unless you build up to it over many years, [it’s] too much.”
He does, however, share his strategy for how he’s remained active and healthy well into his golden years.
Come up with a “carrot”: For Gries, it’s the extreme physical endeavors that take him all over the world. Maybe yours will be getting fit enough to take a day-long walking tour of Paris or Rome. “If you don’t have that, it’s too easy to bag the workout when you don’t feel good.”
Don’t be a fanatic about what you eat: “I try to eat well, and I try to stay away from deep-fried foods. But I don’t [behave] like these people who eat nothing but cardboard, won’t ever eat desserts and all that stuff. Life’s not worth living if you can’t do that.”
Don’t listen to your doctors, negotiate with them: “At the age of 64, I climbed [Mount] Aconcagua, which is at the top of the Andes —23,000 feet. The doctors told me I could never climb that high because of my asthma. I asked them to show me their studies. They said, ‘We don’t have any studies.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to try it.’ All doctors can tell you is conventional wisdom about your condition. But if you don’t consider yourself an average person, you can do things that they say you can’t.”
Don’t let aches and pains sideline you:
“If you can get yourself out the door to start doing something — if you can jump on a bicycle and start pedaling or start walking or start doing anything — you’ll forget all about the pain once the circulation gets going in about two minutes.”