What Would You Put On Your Centenarian Decathlon List?

by | May 12, 2023

 Hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

-The Who, “My Generation”

Pete Townshend penned the above words when he was 20 years old (I wonder if he feels the same way now that he’s 77). It’s a common sentiment of the young (and relatively young) — that death might be preferable to suffering the vagaries of old age. The idea of being trapped in a decrepit body isn’t appealing to anyone.

But the gold standard isn’t dying before getting old but rather having a vibrant and productive old age. My doctor thinks that it’s possible to live well way into our 90s and then have a steep drop off at the end — the goal should be increasing one’s “healthspan” rather than “lifespan.”

Physician and longevity expert Peter Attia agrees. In his book Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, he talks about a concept he calls (and has trademarked) the “Centenarian Decathlon.” The Centenarian Decathlon isn’t an actual competition but rather is a list of ten physical things you’d like to do at age 100.

Choose your Decathlon

Dr. Attia provides his patients with a list of over 50 activities and asks them to choose ten. In his book, he gives these examples:

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

Some of these sound outrageous for an 80 or 90-year-old, let alone a centenarian. But Dr. Attia thinks with proper habits and lifestyle, there’s a good chance we can succeed. I bet the 20 year old Pete Townshend wouldn’t mind being old if he could still do the sort of things on this list.

How to Win your Decathlon

To be able to do the sort of things listed by Dr. Attia, in addition to eating well, he says we need to adopt a regular exercise and training regimen across three dimensions: (1) aerobic endurance and efficiency (aka cardio), (2) strength, and (3) stability. While his book is a treasure trove of advice and information, here’s a thumbnail of recommendations.


Dr. Attia recommends endurance training primarily with some periodic interval training. Our cardiovascular health declines as we age. But exercising smart can reduce the decline. And fortunately, it’s never too late to start. Even people in their 90s who start cardio training can measurably improve.


We begin losing muscle in our thirties. Strength training is required to counteract the decline. Dr. Attia thinks of strength training like retirement saving: “Just as we want to retire with enough money saved up to sustain us for the rest of our lives, we want to reach older age with enough of a ‘reserve’ of muscle (and bone density) to protect us from injury and allow us to continue to pursue the activities that we enjoy.”

When it comes to strength training, of special importance are:

  • Grip strength. Check out this IFOD on the importance of grip strength
  • Training both concentric and eccentric loading movements (lifting slowly up and down with control)
  • Pulling motions — think pulls-ups and rows
  • Hip-hinging movements like deadlifts, squats, step-ups, etc.


This isn’t just core strength (even though that’s a component). “Stability lets us create the most force in the safest manner possible, connecting our body’s different muscle groups with much less risk of injury to our joints, our soft tissue, and especially our vulnerable spine.”

Stability is about becoming bulletproof — to train our bodies so we don’t succumb as easily to injury. Here’s how Dr. Attia describes it:

In action, stability can be magnificent to behold. Stability lets a skinny pitcher throw a blazing fastball. Stability allows Kai Lenny to surf towering waves at Jaws. But stability is also what enables a seventy-five-year-old woman to continue playing tennis injury-free. Stability is what keeps an eighty-year-old grandmother from falling when she steps off a curb that is unexpectedly high. Stability gives a ninety-five-year-old man the confidence to go walk his beloved dog in the park. It lets us keep doing what we love to do. And when you don’t have stability, bad things will inevitably happen—

Attia MD, Peter . Outlive (pp. 267-268). Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

Here’s a related IFOD: How to Live Longer


  1. Good info and insight on how to grow old and look forward to each day . I have to admit that stability is becoming my biggest concern.

  2. I should’ve started earlier, however I shall endeavor to “begin “ my journey at once before it is too late. ( 90+)

    • Go get em!


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