This 82-Year-Old Athlete Is Still Winning Gold Medals

By Andrew Daniels |

John Berg has dedicated his life to breaking a sweat and reaping the rewards. Adopt his four rules to grow stronger, healthier, and happier every day.

john berg on the track

John Berg wants to talk about his bottle of Tylenol.

He bought it six years ago for the same reason any of us buy a bottle of Tylenol: to get some temporary relief in the event of sudden soreness or nagging pain. Unfortunately for John, the purchase was a lousy investment, because he still hasn’t opened the bottle. “I haven’t gotten a headache in six years!” he proclaims.

He’ll gladly forfeit a few bucks if it means never being in pain. At 82 years old and 125 pounds of lean muscle, John is in peak physical condition, but it’s not like he’s discovered some magical elixir that’s made him immune to injury. Instead, he chalks up his impressive durability (and demeanor) to the one power that’s guided him since he laced up his first pair of sneakers as a kid: exercise. “Not only does it help my brain and my body,” he says, “but it also makes me feel so much better about everything else.”

From his early days as a multisport athlete in Wisconsin to his myriad gold medals in the Greensboro Senior Games, John has dedicated his life to breaking a sweat and reaping the rewards. Steal these four rules from his playbook to grow stronger, healthier, and happier every day, no matter your age.

Rule #1: Never Believe You’re Too Busy for Fitness

Growing up in Marinette, Wisconsin, John was the kind of kid who was annoyingly good at every sport he tried. At age 5, he started competing in peewee ice skating, and by 18, he was a state champion speed skater. Soon after, he switched rinks to join his town’s figure skating club, “because that way, I got to skate with all the girls,” he jokes.

At Marinette High, John also lettered in varsity track (the mile), basketball (point guard), and football (halfback), the sport that led him to play in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field against crosstown rival Menominee High in one edition of the long-running “M&M” game. “I almost ran the kickoff into the end zone!” he recalls.

After a year at Carthage College in Kenosha, John started as a process engineer with Allen-Bradley and stayed with the manufacturing company for nearly 40 years, launching a part-time janitorial service so he could put all three of his sons through college. When he “retired” at age 59, he picked up another job at Canplast in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he had long since relocated, to pass the time … and ended up working there for another two decades, just for the heck of it. By the time he actually called it quits at age 80 in 2016, he capped off a fulfilling career marked by nonstop hustle—on and off the clock.

Despite working long hours and side jobs to support his family, John’s commitment to staying active never wavered. “All that time, I ran three miles a day,” he says. You can always make time for fitness, no matter how busy you are, he adds.

That’s why, when John punched out for the last time, he didn’t retreat to the golf course or a poolside cabana to enjoy his newfound freedom—he used the extra hours to become even more of a gym rat.

Rule #2: Do Something Different Every Day

John is up and at ’em early every morning, reaching for his trusty resistance bands right after he eats a balanced breakfast and hits the shower. “I lift my right leg up, stretch it out three times for 15 seconds each, and then I switch legs,” he says. “Ever since I started my bands, I haven’t had any joint problems.” (Want to give resistance bands a try? Check out our beginner’s guide to the versatile fitness tool here.)

Then it’s on to the gym. John belongs to A.C.T. by Deese in Greensboro, where he knows practically every member. (And if he doesn’t, “I’ll always introduce myself,” he says.) First in his daily regimen is one mile on the treadmill, “just to get running,” and from there anything can happen. He does yoga, isometrics, jump rope, SilverSneakers classes, and even dance fitness, he says.

It’s crucial for John to stay on his toes, literally and figuratively. “I believe you should do something different every day,” he says. “Just always switch it up. That way you’ll work different muscles, but more importantly, you won’t get bored.”

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Rule #3: Fuel Your Competitive Streak

John will tell you that working out for the sake of self-improvement is nice, but exercising when there are stakes can be even sweeter. He rekindled his old love of beating, well, everyone when he signed up for the 2015 Greensboro Senior Games on a whim. “I saw slips for the event hanging up at the gym, so I figured why not?” John says.

That year, he only entered two events: the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Though he came in second in the 100, “I really beat ’em up in the 200,” he says. In the 2016 Games, he participated in a whopping 18 events, including cycling and swimming, and handily won most of them. “I had 13 golds and two silvers.” No big deal.

While he’s scaled back to four events at the upcoming Games, he’s hard at work training for a personal best in each one, including the 400-meter dash. “Last year, I beat the second-place guy by a quarter of a lap,” he says. “Every year since I started running competitively, I’ve gotten faster and faster. A lot of my neighbors are younger than me—and they’re also slower.”

For his achievements, John was named a finalist for the 2017 Richard L. Swanson Inspiration Award, given to a SilverSneakers member who has improved their life through fitness. He says it was an honor to be recognized, and he’s using the spotlight to motivate others. “It’s my job to encourage my fellow athletic people to exercise more,” John says.

Rule #4: Live a Rich Life Outside the Gym

While fitness is a huge part of John’s life, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. An avid gardener, he whips up delicious daily salads using the produce from his backyard. “I grow tomatoes, spinach, and kale, and my soil is all organic,” he says. “So I know I’m getting good food. It’s simple: If you eat well, you’ll stay healthy.”

And when he isn’t pounding the pavement or flexing his green thumb, he sings tenor in his barbershop chorus, carves wood sculptures in his garage (he’s working on a full-size swan at the moment), takes ballroom dancing lessons, studies genealogy, and is even heading back to work at his son’s new art gallery. (Oh yeah, did we mention he’s an oil painter?) “I guess I’m a pretty busy guy,” he says.

With a jam-packed schedule and a zest for living well, John Berg isn’t in much of a hurry to slow down.

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