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The discipline of choice

For Marilee MacMillan, 53, the secret to endurance and health is a series of choices.

It’s choosing to go to bed early so she can start her day at 4:30 a.m. with a refreshing two-mile walk. It’s patiently stretching out an old knee injury so she can pursue endurance sports. It’s learning how to optimize her body and mind so she can continue doing the things she loves.

Because of these choices, Marilee can be fully present for her biggest priority: her family. She has the strength to provide full-time care for one of her three adult children who has health needs. And while she’s 53 on paper, it’s also why BellSant estimates Marilee’s biological age is closer to 46.

It’s not always easy to make these decisions, but Mariliee is driven by a motivator that drives many endurance athletes: to keep going.

Don’t stop moving, don’t just sit on the couch. Once you stop putting your shoes on, it’s hard to go back,” says the Washington resident. “You have your list of things to do, and when exercise isn’t on there, it gets pushed to the bottom.

Investing in health

Marilee has always been active. She played softball for years before a knee injury left her in a hip-to-ankle cast. After an extensive healing process, she returned to her love of running marathons. Eventually, a cyst, arthritis, and scar tissue in her knee limited her activities and made her reassess her health goals.

“Once you get into your mid-50s, those things kind of sneak back in,” Marilee says. “Your body is really adept at compensating for whatever was going on. But at some point, your body gets tired, and it just doesn’t want to.”

This experience led her on a journey to understand how to heal her body so she can keep running. She’s explored just about every approach there is, from conventional medicine to acupuncture to nutrition to exercise.

“It’s literally trying to find the right balance, the right therapy, the right exercises, and to know when to stop and rest, because that’s a hard one,” she says about her efforts to heal her knee. “And it’s just continual. You don’t want it to be the thing that really drags you down.”

It’s what led her to BellSant, where she receives quarterly checkups and advanced diagnostics.

They flagged things that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t known to test for it,” she says of the quarterly checkups and lab work. “They give recommendations to make sure you can lead the optimal life you want to lead.

Setting goals

Marilee was pleased when BellSant revealed her biological age to be a full six years younger than her chronological age. But she’s quick to point out that “it’s not something you rest your laurels on. There’s still stuff you can work on.”

For Marilee, today’s work involves rehabbing her knee and building strength. To cross-train her body, she mixes up her exercise program to include weight lifting, yoga, pilates, stretching, walking, and using an elliptical machine.

Eventually, she wants to return to competitive running, which has always inspired her to find new ways to improve her performance.

“[With racing,] you tend to be more in touch with your body and want to maximize your physical potential,” she says. “It’s just the physical and mental challenge of it. At my age, it’s also staying active and being able to compete. That’s a huge one.”

Seeing one’s competitive edge slip away with age can have a tremendous impact on anyone’s mental health, something Marilee credits BellSant for reviewing as one of their 11 health system diagnostics.

“Especially as you get older, it’s super frustrating when you can’t do the same things you did when you were younger,” she says.

Having a goal like racing reminds Marilee to prioritize her own health just as much as her family and caretaking responsibilities. While she acknowledges there have been times when she has sacrificed exercise for the people she loves, it’s simply not sustainable.

“Because you realize that you yourself are suffering. And in order to be there for your family, you have to do these things,” she says.

It comes down to choices and finding what works for you. For Marilee, that’s rising before dawn and taking care of herself. This leads her to make other decisions, like not watching TV or spending time on social media. “I just don’t prioritize that in my life at all, so that gives me a lot of time to focus on other things.”

Like most people, Marilee wants to live a healthier life so she can continue the activities that bring her joy, no matter what age she is. She’s also learned that prioritizing her health, setting goals, and knowing when to slow down has given her the momentum and drive to keep going.

My biggest advice is to not stop,” she says. “When something gets in your way, just pivot.

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