We had the privilege of sitting down with Roberto at the Regional Summit on Policy Innovation for Healthy Aging in the WHO European Region, in Lisbon, Portugal, where he shared his inspiring story, highlighting the power of perseverance.
Robert’s quest for a healthier life began one ordinary day on his way to work in Lagos, Nigeria. “I fell unconscious in the car. When I came, I was in front of the hospital,” he says. However, instead of seeking immediate medical attention, he decided to return home.
“That same evening, convinced that I was still fit, I put on a pair of running shoes and tried to run down the road in front of our house,” he recalls. “I had palpitations, spots in front of my eyes and I felt pretty bad. And then I got pretty scared.”
Robert used this moment as a wake-up call to embark on a journey of self-care, determined to make his health a priority. He started with small changes and incorporating exercises into his daily routine. “I started jogging after work or walking around the local football field around the house, just slowly and gradually losing weight and changing my diet. I was careful about what I ate and drank. The combination helped me get better, definitely.”
As he continued, he began to enjoy running as a sport and eventually began participating in marathons. But the strain on his knees convinced him to look for an alternative path, which led him to the world of triathlon – an endurance race consisting of swimming, cycling and running. “Triathlon offers a well-rounded approach to exercise. It combines strength training, coordination and equally important mental preparation,” he explains.
At the age of 65, Robert competed in his first Iron Man triathlon, a journey that led to 3 wins and 2 runner-up finishes. In 2020, he won the European Half-Iron Man Championship in Copenhagen.
Acceptance of physical activity as a lifestyle
Robert is focused on more than just the thrill of the competition: he is truly enjoying his new lifestyle. “Competition is not everything. I enjoyed the journey I took throughout the training. For me, training is a lifestyle.”
Robert firmly believes that inactivity is not the best way to start the late years. Instead, he advocates staying active from a young age to ensure a healthier life in old age, and believes it’s something anyone can achieve with the right mindset.
“The main message I would give to anyone starting to aspire to get fit is 3D. Desire – you must want to get fit. Determination – you have to be determined to do it and train yourself. And finally, discipline – you have to be disciplined to do activities that will keep you fit.”
Physical activity and aging
From 2024, people aged 65 and over in the WHO European Region will outnumber those under 15. The Lisbon Final Declaration, adopted at the Lisbon Summit, is a step forward towards addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by Europe’s aging population.
A new WHO/Europe report, entitled Promoting physical activity and healthy diet for healthy aging in the WHO European Region, shows that just 20 minutes of daily physical activity can reduce the risk of all-cause mortality by 28%. The report also highlights key strategies for healthier ageing, which include prioritizing community-based physical activity programs, providing brief advice on nutrition and physical activity as part of primary care, and developing age-friendly communities.
During the 2 days of the summit, Robert engaged with experts and participants to discuss more and new ways to bring together the health sector, local authorities and sports communities to build age-friendly communities in 53 countries across the region.