Barb Wnek counts herself as an example of what older people can be if they keep in shape doing something they like.
Soon to be 61, Wnek is on the front end of the generation often called "aging baby boomers."
Her version of aging is to be a marathon runner who has taken the sport to another level. She's a few states shy of running a marathon in each of the 50 states. Barring cancellations, she'll hit 50 in December on Kiawah Island, S.C.
Overall, she has 92 under her belt since she began running marathons in the late 1990s.
"I love it," she says. "It just makes me feel good. I have more energy, I feel better."
Equal to the running, she likes traveling and meeting people.
"I don't wear headphones when I run," she said. "I'm in a new place, I like to look around and see new sights. But I see them, people running with headphones in their ears. Not me.
"Then we all get together after the race and share stories."
The Furman Institute for Running and Scientific Training reports that running for fitness decreases aging by 50 percent over people who are sedentary.
Susan Deusinger, director of programs in physical therapy for Washington University School of Medicine, said, "Because she's already an exerciser and her body is trained, she's more likely to be able to maintain that as long as she avoids injury."
While Wnek is in an elite class, for her it's part of spending her life healthy.
The National Institute on Aging says aerobic exercise programs work for people over 60 whether they enter their senior years in good condition or are sedentary.
"Aerobic exercise conditioning can offset normal aging of the heart by making it a better pump, even for those who begin later in life, at age 60 or 70," says an Institute study published in the journal Circulation.
"Studies show that if you're 90 and start lifting weights, your muscles will get stronger," Deusinger said. "It's never too late to start."
Miguel Paniagua, a geriatrician, and associate professor with St. Louis University School of Medicine, said Wnek's performance is not surprising. "Sixty is the new 40 for healthy people," he said. "I have people running half marathons in their 70s and 80s."
A physical education instructor with the Ferguson-Florissant School District, Wnek said she's always kept an eye on her health in order to avoid some family health problems.
The byproduct is a high energy level, she says.
She has written two books about childhood exercise and ways to get children to exercise. She works out three times a week at a local gym and runs neighborhood hills for stamina.
One of the jewels in her crown, which include a lot of firsts through thirds in her age category: She finished the 2007 Chicago marathon fiasco where a torridly hot day killed one person and hospitalized scores of others.
"It wasn't a good time, but I finished," she said. "I've finished every marathon I've started."
Her fitness numbers are excellent, and she keeps tabs on a blood pressure that's a little high — a family trait.
Still, "my doctor says I'll be hit by a bus before I die of a heart attack," she said.
Paniagua said you don't have to be a marathoner to get in shape; 30 minutes a day five days a week provide "significant benefits," he said. "It's never too late."
Deusinger said meet with your doctor to discuss fitness, previous injuries, learn about checking your pulse, understanding soreness ... then, "Start slowly with something that doesn't hurt. We'd want you to start walking first on flat, even terrain, and understand your vital signs under those conditions."