CMU Fitness Challenge keynote lecture by Vonda Wright: Stay strong at any age

Dr. Vonda Wright

I attended a much-anticipated talk at CMU by Dr. Vonda Wright of UPMC in McConomy Auditorium, given to the CMU community as a keynote lecture for the CMU Fitness Challenge I participate in.

“Dr. Wright is an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC and an author and researcher. She focuses on the master athlete and living a healthy lifestyle, having conducted extensive research on the benefits of remaining active throughout one’s lifetime.”

It was a fascinating and inspiring talk! Dr. Wright was a high-energy speaker, very passionate and direct. She spoke on many topics, actually, not just about physical exercise. And she spoke frankly about personal experiences in her life.

Focus on over 40

Dr. Wright was particularly speaking to the older staff members in attendance. She argued that there was no reason one should not remain strong and vital well into what some might consider old age. She indicated that research showed that significant decline does not need to kick in until the “cutoff” point of age 70, which is when it seems that even very health people start a significant downward slope.

She said that as someone going on age 45 (she certainly looked a lot more fit than most people that age!), she learned that there is not enough research on active people over age 40, because of a bias in favor of studying young athletes. The result is that people have made wrong assumptions about what it is like to grow older.

Her favorite phrase seems to be “bash your bones”: she emphasized that weight-bearing exercise is particularly important and stimulating for older people. She showed photos of how inactivity can result in “fat in muscle” (yuck).

Business principles

One interesting perspective she wanted to share was that she urged us to apply “business principles” to our personal health: after all, if we pay a lot of attention to our careers and jobs, how come we don’t treat our own health as a serious job too? Furthermore, it’s not just our physical health, narrowly construed: she asked, “What do we really want?”

Without plans, she said, we are just laying bricks, not building a movement. Whatever we take seriously, we must think ahead five to ten years, and do nothing that is not part of the goal. We must learn to say “No” to what is unimportant. If we focus on what is most important to us, “everything else falls into place”.

She told a personal story illustrating what she meant. She had an opportunity at one point in her career to just continue working hard and become chair of the department. But she realized she didn’t want to be chair and followed her own path instead, choosing what interested her.


Dr. Wright openly promoted her books throughout the talk. I made a note to look them up at the library.


I thought it was great that CMU had Dr. Vonda Wright come give a talk for the CMU Fitness Challenge this year. Many ideas she shared, I found inspirational. And as a master athlete herself, she is a great role model.

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