Running Through the Decades with Joan Benoit Samuelson


This article originally appeared in the December 2023 edition of Women’s Health Magazine, and can be found HERE.

For many people, completing a marathon once is a major accomplishment. For Joan Benoit Samuelson, it’s a way of life. This running icon has a competitive resume that most athletes could only dream of, having won women’s marathons in the world’s highest-profile international competitions while breaking several record times for American women. Today, in her 60s, she’s still going strong.

And while not everyone can run a marathon in under three hours for five straight decades, Samuelson’s active approach to aging can help all of us consider how we approach our overall health as we get older. In a conversation with Runner’s World, she outlined how placing a collective focus on mind, body and spirit leads to improved quality of life and health.

Women’s Health (WH): How did you discover your love for running?
Joan Benoit Samuelson (JBS): Funnily enough, I started after I broke my leg while ski racing in high school. Always a competitor, I wanted to get back into shape as quickly as I could, so I started to run as a form of rehab. I loved the challenge of it—I think I’ve always loved challenges. And life is full of challenges, as we all know. That’s where it all began.

A lot of beginning runners ask experienced runners, “Where is the joy in the sport?” Running is one of the few sports that allow the best athletes in the world to run side by side with everyday runners. There was a great example recently in Chicago when the world record was broken. I don’t think it hit the 49,000 runners at first what had happened—then they realized, with their medals around their necks, that they had just run in a race where a world record was set. There’s something for everybody in our sport. It’s very inclusive. No matter your ability, you can participate.

WH: What does it mean to you when people talk about healthy aging?
JBS: I think it’s all in a person’s mind, to be honest with you. When I look in the mirror…sure, I look 60-plus, maybe even older. But I feel like I’m 40-something, and that’s what’s important. It’s mind over matter.

WH: What is the mind-body-spirit triad, and how does it inform your life?
JBS: All of these components—the mind, the body, and the spirit—need to be in balance. If something’s out of balance, I know that I’m not going to perform my best or be at my best. So, I always try to keep myself balanced. It’s not always easy, but it’s important. Whether you’re changing your diet, running fewer (or more) miles, or just finding some extra quiet time, it’s important to sense what your mind, body, and spirit need—the balance depends on the individual.

WH: The benefits of exercise for the body are clear enough, but what else has staying healthy as you’ve aged offered you?
JBS: First of all, you feel better. And when you feel better, you’re more willing to be active and do things. And when you do things, you’re more willing to reach out and help somebody else who may be struggling. The better you feel about yourself and the stronger your self-esteem, the more energy you’ll have to make a positive impact on society.

WH: We’ve talked to many people who were active when they were younger but eventually strayed from that path. What advice do you give people looking to get their fitness routines back on track?
JBS: Small steps. Everybody needs to understand there are always going to be setbacks in one’s life or career. It’s okay to take small steps. It’s okay to take time off. The most important thing is to have solid goals and not lose sight of them.

We’re all getting older. Things aren’t going to feel the same. You’re not going to run as hard, but you can still set goals that keep you motivated. If you’re aging and you haven’t exercised before, or you’ve never been a member of a team, go out and find somebody in your community to partner up with. Find an offering in your community-services network and join the crowd. When you’re just starting out, it really helps to have somebody there making progress with you.

WH: What do you wish you could change about our society’s relationship with aging?
JBS: I wish we could get more people out and moving. I wish more people understood that fitness doesn’t stop at physical health—especially today, when so many people are facing mental-health challenges. Exercise is a great way to combat that. I want everyone to feel confident, and feel like they’re part of a community. That’s how I always aim to feel as I get older.

If you’re committed to sustaining your health and fitness as you age like Joan has, then you need a health plan that supports you on your journey. At Tufts Health Plan, we offer a variety of Medicare plans designed to suit different needs and lifestyles. Visit our plan finder tool to learn more

Resources & Tools

Drug Search

Use the drug search tools to find out if your drugs are covered and which tier they fall under on your plan type.

Find a Doctor

Find a doctor within your Tufts Health Plan Medicare Preferred HMO network or your Tufts Health Plan Senior Care Options network.

Health Library A-Z

Tufts Health Plan has partnered with Healthwise to provide members with access to a library of high-quality content on conditions, treatments and more.