Pensioner, 85, shares the simple switch that’s helped him to do 650,000 press-ups

Paul Youd said he loves ‘the euphoria’ and ‘freedom’ he experiences while running.

Eleanor Fleming
Thursday 11 May 2023 10:30 BST
Paul Youd, 85, is planning to complete 100 ultramarathons before his 100th birthday (Collect/PA Real Life)
Paul Youd, 85, is planning to complete 100 ultramarathons before his 100th birthday (Collect/PA Real Life)

An 85-year-old whose life changed when he adopted a vegan diet in his 60s and then started to exercise in his 80s is now challenging himself to complete one million press-ups before his 90th birthday and 100 ultramarathons before his 100th birthday entirely “fuelled by plants”.

Paul Youd, who lives with his wife Teresa, 75, in Taunton, Somerset, decided to take up running in his 40s, but gave up after six weeks as his knees were “so sore” due to his arthritis – he said “everything was painful” and he “couldn’t shake hands, change gears, pull up the duvet or hold a kettle”.

The grandfather-of-five then bought a bicycle to reduce the strain on his joints, but it was not until he decided to eliminate meat in his 60s to “avoid mad cow disease” and later try a completely vegan diet that he said he noticed incredible health benefits, including reduced inflammation.

Paul, a keen animal rights activist who formerly worked in the RAF and Royal Australian Air Force and later became a bread maker, teaching at local schools and launching his own blog called No Bread Is An Island, said he initially eliminated meat and cheese from his diet, before giving up all animal products.

He then decided he wanted to learn how to do a press-up aged 80, and has since set himself a target of doing one million before he turns 90, completing more than 650,000 so far.

Now, aged 85, he is on a mission to take part in 100 ultramarathons before his 100th birthday and is raising money for the vegan campaigning charity Viva!.

“You don’t know what you’re capable of until you actually try it,” Paul said.

“Try something and get outside of that comfort zone, otherwise it’s stultifying.

“I’m living my best life – who’d have thought it?

“I’m now 85 and I’m living my best life, I really am.”

Paul worked in communications in the RAF and Royal Australian Air Force and as a radio officer in the Government Communications Headquarters – otherwise known as GCHQ – before taking early retirement in 1993.

He then decided to train as a teacher, specifically to fulfil his passion for bread making, which he said is “a tool for family learning”, and ended up teaching until the Covid pandemic.

It was at this point, aged 80, that Paul’s fitness journey began.

“I looked at home exercises and started doing lots of those, but mainly press-ups, and I’ve been doing press-ups ever since really,” Paul explained.

“I’ve got this challenge to do a million press-ups between the ages of 80 and 90.”


Prior to the first lockdown, Paul could not perform one press-up – but he now does 1,000 every three days while listening to the news or a podcast, and has done more than 650,000 so far.

After previously failing to take up running in his 40s owing to the pain caused by his arthritis – the common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint – he decided to try again in his 80s as he said his vegan diet, which he adopted in his 60s, had “changed (his) life”.

A vegan diet is based on plants, such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, the NHS says.

Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs, and Paul said his mantra at the time was: “I don’t want another animal to die so that I can live.”

Paul realised he was no longer in pain while chasing one of his grandsons around the dining room table, and this prompted him to start running around his garden.

Soon enough, Paul improved his stamina and after three months he said he felt “confident to do a 10k every day, for 10 days, to raise money”.

“I thought that I was going to get more tired as the week went on, but I didn’t,” Paul explained.

“I got stronger and in the end I did 110k rather than the 100k I’d set myself.”

The father-of-two said he quickly became “addicted” to running and wanted to “keep up this level of fitness”, so he was advised to look into ultramarathons – endurance running races or treks beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.2km).

Paul then completed his first ultramarathon in July 2021 – the Devon Coast to Coast, which is approximately 100km long – and said he has been “hooked” ever since.

He said he loves “the euphoria” and “freedom” he experiences while running.


“I just thought, I can do this,” Paul said.

“I realise I should have been a runner all along because I just fell into it, I love it.

“It’s a feeling of freedom and it’s a feeling of accomplishment – I’ve gone out and done this.

“I’ve never ever regretted going out and training … and sometimes you get to that state of mind where you think, gosh, I could run forever, and it’s a good feeling.”

Paul has completed nine ultramarathons so far and has a collection of medals on display in his home, but wants to do 91 more before turning 100 – all supported by his family and wife Teresa, who says he is “determined”.

Being a vegan and animal rights activist, he said his motivation to keep going is “the desire to see animals not hurt or tortured”.

He added: “If I can do anything to mitigate or alleviate that, then I will.”

Some of Paul’s ultramarathon races will be virtual, where he will cover the full distance using an app, while the others will be at a specified location.

He completed a 250km simulated trip from Russia to Lapland before Christmas last year using the exercise tracking app Strava to measure his distance.

To maintain his fitness levels, Paul runs or walks every weekday, covering a distance of 60km per week on average, and uses a kettlebell for strength and conditioning exercises.

He said he takes no medication and wants to maintain his health for as long as possible, as he does not want to “bother the NHS or the care system”.

He follows a strictly vegan diet and will usually have a fruit smoothie every day – comprising kale, spinach, dates, blueberries and bananas – along with flax seeds, nuts and “lots of leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils and legumes”.

He also takes beetroot juice as a performance enhancer.

Paul, who still bakes bread in his spare time, said he has realised “ultramarathons are within his comfort zone” – something he never thought he would say – and he would encourage anyone else to take up running or try a vegan diet as the results for him have been “remarkable”.

“We can all do much more than we think we can,” Paul said.

“If I’d have recognised the fact that we can all do more than we think we can many years ago, if I’d have done that, who knows what would have happened?

“But I got there in the end.”

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