Surprise, Ariz. (AZ Central) -- It was time for Surprise resident Sy Perlis to break another world record.
The 91-year-old weightlifting champ stepped up to the firetruck-redbench at the front of the room. With a light push, Perlis rolled ontohis back, reached for the metal bar above his head and hoisted the187.2-pound weight over his chest.
Perlis broke a World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters recordin the 90-and-over age division on Saturday at the National Push-PullBench Press and Dead Lift Championships, which were held at the EmbassySuites Hotel in north Phoenix. The final lift broke an associationrecord of 135 pounds that had been in place since 2005.
At an age when some avoid exercise, Perlis has become an athlete, said association president and event organizer Gus Rethwisch.
"We've had a lot of lifters in their middle 80s, late 80s andoccasionally we get one 90 and over, but they've never inspired people(like Perlis has)," Rethwisch said.
Perlis began weightlifting when he was 60 but entered his firstchampionship competition five years ago at the suggestion of histrainer.
Now, he is a seasoned champion.
When he competed in the division for 85- to 89-year-olds, Perlis wonthe state title in 2009 and world title in 2010 and 2011 in the181-pound weight category.
"It gave me the opportunity to do something to test myself for onething, and I didn't have to run around to do it, as you would in someother sports," Perlis said of his hobby.
"I got a lot of satisfaction out of it, and it made me feel good, and it was good for me."
It is a common misconception that exercise is unsafe for olderpeople, said Chhanda Dutta, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch ofthe National Institute on Aging.
Research shows that exercise reduces the likelihood a person will develop a chronic disease.
For those who already have such diseases, it can improve symptoms, she added.
"The risk of leading a sedentary lifestyle is much greater thananything related to exercise," Dutta said. "I think it's important forpeople to realize that age alone doesn't determine the intensity of yourworkout."
People like Perlis are good examples of how staying fit helps seniors live longer, Dutta said.
"While these people are unusual and exceptional, they illustrate thefact that there can still be people, even in their 90s, who age verysuccessfully," she said.
Seniors are being studied as part of ongoing research about howgenetics and physiology help people such as Perlis live long, healthylives, Dutta said.
While Perlis and experts agree weightlifting is beneficial, it hasn't been easy for Perlis to train for such a demanding sport.
He has had some injuries but says they are not related to his weightlifting hobby.
His trainer, Reid Solar, says Perlis' involvement with weightliftingmight be a factor, but it's difficult to pinpoint the cause of healthissues for older athletes.
Perlis had surgery to fix a hernia and get a pacemaker. He might havealso fractured his wrist, but when he visited the doctor five weeksafter receiving the injury, he was diagnosed with acute arthritis.
Because of the pacemaker surgery, Solar did not allow him to compete in 2012.
"His health comes first," Solar said. "I do that with my younger guys, too. Age doesn't matter in that case."
Perlis said his doctor is aware he participates in the sport and has told him, "If you can do it, do it."
Perlis trains five days a week. His routine includes cardiovascularexercise and weightlifting, in addition to the bench-pressing sessionsSolar offers every Saturday for Sun City Grand residents.
Perlis' wife, Joan, 69, said he encourages her to stay active.
"I always say if it weren't for my husband, I'd be at home watchingTV and eating bonbons," she said. "He's my motivator. He makes me workout, too."
He is one of three active lifters in the 90-and-older age category inthe association and the only one to compete Saturday, Rethwisch said.
At the championship, Perlis was a crowd favorite. They cheered and shouted words of encouragement when he was ready to lift.
"You got this, Sy! Come on, Sy!" they shouted.
The air was chalky from the magnesium carbonate powder that lifters used to tighten their grip, and the room reeked of sweat.
For each lift, Solar positioned Perlis' fingers, adjusted hisshoulders and gave him a pat on the chest. Each time Perlis exhaled, letthe bar down to his chest and without hesitation lifted it back up.
Usually, competitors are allowed only a total of three lifts, four if they are trying to break a world record.
On Saturday, Rethwisch allowed Perlis to do five.
It's not often that a 91-year-old participates in his championship event.
"He was on a roll and ... I consulted with people ... and they said, 'Why not?' " Rethwisch said.
Perlis' record lifts this past weekend qualify him for the world championship in Reno in November.
After the competition, many other competitors came backstage to congratulate Perlis. Some asked to take a photo with him.
"I'll be happy if I'm still walking when I'm 91," said Tanner Cook, 20, of east Mesa.
After he asked Perlis his age, Donald Judd, 75, of St. David, shook his head.
"You put me to shame," Judd said. "I'll be lucky if I get 121 (pounds) today."
Gene Lawrence, 73, of Scottsdale, called Perlis his "new hero," adding, "I thought I was old."
"You're a kid," he said.