1. Home
  2. Science
  3. Health
  4. news
  5. A lawyer got fit in his 70s after prioritizing work over health for years. Three simple changes to his diet helped him set a swimming record at age 84.

A lawyer got fit in his 70s after prioritizing work over health for years. Three simple changes to his diet helped him set a swimming record at age 84.

Serafina Kenny   

A lawyer got fit in his 70s after prioritizing work over health for years. Three simple changes to his diet helped him set a swimming record at age 84.
  • Michael C. Donaldson is an 84-year-old entertainment lawyer and record-setting under-ice swimmer.
  • He didn't start his fitness journey until his 70s.

Michael C. Donaldson, 84, is an entertainment lawyer by day — and a record-setting under-ice swimmer by night.

But for most of his life, Donaldson, based in Los Angeles, barely considered his health and fitness, as he worked hard to grow his career. Then at the age of 75, he realized he didn't have much time left to try all the things he'd been putting off to do "someday."

Aerial silk acrobatics was one of those things. It turned out it wasn't for him, but in trying it, he became friends with Markus Rogan, a former Austrian Olympic swimmer and psychotherapist who pushed Donaldson to try different sports over the next eight years.

When Rogan went to Austria in 2023 to break records in under-ice swimming — where you swim under a sheet of ice with no breathing equipment — Donaldson joined him but stressed that he wouldn't be participating. But he quickly changed his mind, fell in love with the sport, and started to train with Rogan to set records.

Donaldson told Business Insider that when he first tried under-ice swimming it felt "almost like a religious experience. You're all by yourself, just you and the cold water, and you know you're going to make it."

On February 20, 2024, at the age of 84, Donaldson set the senior men's world record for swimming 98.4 feet under ice in a wetsuit with no fins or gloves.

As Donaldson found out, it's never too late to try something new and make healthy changes. And with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that 9.9% of those aged 75 and over by the year 2032 will still be employed, up from 8.2 in 2022, it's most important than ever for people to stay fit.

"When you're between 65 and 95, 'someday' is here. It truly is the best time of life, the last third," Donaldson said. "I have time for hobbies and taking care of myself, and I've had some wonderful opportunities."

Donaldson shared the lifestyle changes he's made since getting fit at 75.

Eating lots of vegetables

Donaldson was inspired to eat more vegetables after meeting centenarians in Blue Zones — which are regions where it is more common for people to live to 100 — for a book he is writing about embracing life after 65.

Centenarians in Blue Zones, such as Okinawa, Japan, and Nicoya, Costa Rica, mostly eat whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, and very little meat.

Donaldson grows his own vegetables and joked that he doesn't need to take supplements because he eats the plants he grows in nutrient-rich soil. Dietitians agree it's better to get vitamins and nutrients from food rather than supplements, and there's some evidence to show that more nutrient-rich soil leads to more nutritious produce.

Drinking less alcohol

"I used to have a glass of wine with every single dinner," Donaldson said. "Now I hardly ever have any wine with dinner — but not because I made a decision to quit.

"It's just that if you spend a week in Okinawa, and nobody is drinking alcohol, and then you spend a week in Costa Rica, and nobody is drinking alcohol, you just kind of realize that there might be a reason all these hundred-year-old people are not drinking."

Alcohol is associated with an increased risk of a range of health conditions, including cancer and high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and research suggests that drinking can worsen exercise performance, which isn't ideal for athletes and people like Michael who are training for big events.

There's no safe amount of alcohol you can drink, according to the World Health Organization.

Rarely eating red meat

"My diet has changed remarkably. I used to eat steak and eggs in the morning, a hamburger at lunch, and whatever kind of meat I could have at dinner. And now I eat red meat very rarely. I mostly eat chicken and fish," Donaldson said.

This change happened around a year ago when he saw centenarians in Okinawa and Costa Rica eating mostly vegetables and "realized how beneficial it was to avoid red meat."

Red meat is high in saturated fats, which can increase the "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood and can lead to cardiovascular disease. It's also been classified as "probably carcinogenic" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning there's some evidence that it causes cancer in humans and plenty of evidence it causes cancer in animals.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, red meat shouldn't be eaten more than once or twice a week, and choosing white meat or vegetarian options is generally healthier.

Donaldson also does breathing exercises

If you're going to swim under ice for almost 100 feet without an oxygen tank, you'll need to be able to hold your breath, so Donaldson started doing breathing exercises six weeks before his first under-ice dive.

Donaldson would breathe in fully and hold it for increasingly longer periods until he could hold his breath for three minutes. He also does more active breath holds, taking full breaths and holding that air while he runs 75 yards and walks 35 yards.

Although Donaldson does specific breathing exercises for his training that wouldn't be recommended for the average person, there is evidence to suggest that the types of deep breathing most people are familiar with can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety.

Popular Right Now