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January 30, 2014

Fountain of fitness: Athens man uses exercise to rebound from heart attack

— David Gaston stood near the entrance of the Athens-Limestone Hospital Wellness Center on Monday morning clad in bright red workout gear. As he exchanged hearty handshakes and big grins with passersby, friends and family milled in and out of a nearby room temporarily converted into a party area.

Gaston, whose 80th birthday is today, spent the morning of his party the same way he begins most days, making the short trip from his nearby residence to spend two hours walking a treadmill to warm up, lifting weights and doing cardiovascular exercises.

Wellness Center Director Zac Mucci, who was surprised to learn David’s age, said he is a good example of someone who has improved his quality of life through regular exercise and conscientious eating.

“Our average clientele is probably 60 to 75, and we do have some still working out in their 80s,” Mucci said. “David is a hard worker and his hard work has paid off. I would say that the more times a person focuses on exercise and focuses on what they eat, the quality of life will be better.”

The tall and lean senior citizen might not be as famous as fitness fiend and PGA great Gary Player, a 78-year-old who recently told ESPN he does 1,200 sit-ups daily and is the only golfer to win a career Grand Slam on the PGA Tour and Senior Tour. But Gaston is well known among the regulars at the Wellness Center.

“He just loves this place,” said Pam Gaston, David’s daughter-in-law and patient liaison for the hospital. “They tell me he can lift weights like a 30-year-old. What he does is just an inspiration.”

The 1951 West Limestone High School graduate and Navy veteran said he was compelled to prioritize exercise and a healthy diet after having a heart attack and open-heart surgery and also dealing with diabetes.

“The doctors told me I needed to exercise, and I just started doing it,” David said. “The more you exercise, the more you’ll like it. The (Wellness Center) staff showed me how to use everything, and these people are grand.”

Gaston said he does not follow the same workout pattern, other than warming up properly and spending 15 to 30 minutes with 30-pound hand weights.

“I’ve probably tripled what I could lift when I first started but I wasn’t trying to build big muscle,” he said. “I just like to exercise and try not to overdo it.”

One of David’s primary joys is his family, which includes his sons, Stan and Greg; his daughters-in-law, Pam and Stephanie; and his granddaughter, Hannah, 17. He also had a grandson, Austin, who died two years ago at age 26.

His wife, Carolyn, 72, said she prefers to exercise at home, while David thrives on being able to work out and socialize. She said her husband has improved his diet but still enjoys two of his favorite foods: cornbread and chocolate-covered almonds.

When asked the secret to his vigor, David attributed it to “just taking care of myself, enjoying life and having fun.”

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    The AARP safe driving course will be held 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday at the Council on Aging office, 912 W. Pryor St. Cost is $15 for AARP members. All others, $20. Participants are asked to bring lunch or snacks. RSVP to Emily Sandlin at 256-216-3906.

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