How sprinting 21 minutes a week helped this 68-year-old man lose 40 pounds

A childlike encounter with a soccer ball inspired a weekly routine that has helped David Kirkpatrick reduce his stress levels and change the way he eats.
David Kirkpatrick with his soccer ball at writer's conference in France.
David Kirkpatrick with his soccer ball at writer's conference in France.Kathie Yoneda
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By Julie Compton

At 67 years old, former film industry executive David Kirkpatrick hadn’t run like a kid since he was — well, a kid. And it never occurred to him to try until last year, when a friend on Facebook asked: “Have you ever just full out run like you were 5 years old again?”

It sounded crazy to Kirkpatrick, who until then had been counting steps on his FitBit (he once logged 100,000 steps in a day). But he decided to give it a try.

“I was afraid to do it initially because it was something I hadn’t done in so many years,” said Kirkpatrick.

Despite his fear, Kirkpatrick walked onto his farm in rural Massachusetts, picked up a soccer ball, kicked it a few hundred feet, and chased after it as fast as he could.

At first, he says, it felt “horrible.”

Unlike long distance running, which is an aerobic exercise, sprinting is anaerobic, which means Kirkpatrick’s body was moving at such an intensity that his cardiovascular system couldn’t deliver oxygen to his muscles quickly enough.

He had trouble catching his breath, he recalls, and his body felt “traumatized.”

“It was unsettling, it was different, it wasn’t something I really knew,” he recalls. But he says the soccer ball made it fun.

“That visual representation of a colorful ball in the grass — whether it’s in the city park or the countryside — it just made me feel like I could do it,” Kirkpatrick says.

He says sprinting wakened up his endorphins. After about an hour, he started to feel upbeat. “I found myself feeling confident. I felt a different life in my step, and felt so good after that.”

Sprinting has since become a go-to exercise for Kirkpatrick, a regular contributor for Better Humans on Medium.com. And it’s helped him lose a “whopping 40 pounds,” he says.

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That visual representation of a colorful ball in the grass — whether it’s in the city park or the countryside — it just made me feel like I could do it.

Here’s how he makes it part of his routine.

7 times a day, 3 days a week

Kirkpatrick sprints three days a week, and takes a day off between each sprint day to give his body valuable recovery time.

He completes 7 sprints in a row, and takes 45 second breaks between each.

Each sprint lasts about 15 seconds, which he says is about the time it takes to catch the soccer ball after kicking it a few hundred feet. And he spends about 3-4 minutes warming up beforehand with a brisk walk and some easy stretches.

“That amounts to about 21 minutes a week, which is really nothing,” he says.

He uses a soccer ball as a visual guide

Kirkpatrick says chasing a soccer ball “playfully signifies an end goal,” and brings him back to a time when running was fun.

“It kind of pricks your mind a little,” he says. “You say, ‘Hey, I used to ice skate, I used to play ball, I used to get out there and run.”

Soccer balls are inexpensive, and can be purchased almost anywhere — that’s important to Kirkpatrick, a past president of Paramount Pictures and former production chief of Walt Disney Studios who travels to speaking engagements internationally year round.

“You can pick one up anywhere in the world — soccer is pretty much ubiquitous,” he says.

He fuels his body with fruits, veggies, and protein

Before he started sprinting, Kirkpatrick used to overeat due to anxiety, but he says sprinting has reduced his stress, so he eats less. He also changed the way he eats — loading his plate with 80 percent fruits and vegetables and 20 percent protein, which he says also helped him lose weight.

“I sleep much better, I’m trim, my blood system and insulin systems are really strong and good,” says Kirkpatrick, who celebrates his 68th birthday this month.

And it all started with a sprint.

“I think it brings us back to something core in us that is really wonderful,” says Kirkpatrick.

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