Iron Nun’s Habits Highlight Importance of Wellness in Senior Living

Perhaps more senior living providers should encourage their residents to stay on their feet and eat leafy green vegetables, fruit — and fresh garlic wrapped in peanut butter.

That advice came from Sister Madonna Buder, an 88-year-old better known as “The Iron Nun,” in part for her record as the oldest woman to ever complete a grueling Ironman race. Buder shared these and other words of health-related wisdom during a keynote talk at Dished, an annual Senior Housing News event that hosted more than 120 industry dining professionals in Chicago on March 7.

Raw garlic, purported to have heart-healthy properties, is best chopped into pieces and eaten with a healthy dollop of peanut butter and a banana, Buder explained during the event Thursday.


“It’s a perfect combination. I’m addicted to it,” she said. “The sharpness of the garlic is countered by the blandness of the peanut butter and escorted by the sweetness of the banana.”

Sister Madonna Buder at Dished on March 7

Buder — who starred in a 2016 Nike commercial — knows a thing or two about personal health and wellness in her later years. She’s the oldest woman to ever complete an Ironman triathlon, a title she earned when she was 82. Like most triathlon competitors, the Iron Nun is also an avid runner, a habit she picked up in her late 40s.

“Being active is so important because it keeps you circulating,” Buder said. “Circulation is a healer.”


Buder’s advice is relevant as senior living providers search for new ways to foster healthy behaviors among their residents, including through spiritual, educational, social, fitness and wellness-focused dining programs. The conventional wisdom says that such wellness offerings can help boost resident satisfaction and health, improve quality of life and attract a younger demographic of older adults.

This, in turn, may lead to longer lengths of stay, and ultimately, a better bottom line for many in the senior living industry.

This is not to say that providers should enroll their residents in triathlons and buy garlic and peanut butter in bulk. But they must find ways to show their residents they truly care, Buder said, and focusing on wellness is perhaps one piece of that puzzle.

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“You might be the only ones that a knocked-down-and-out person has contact with, especially if they lived alone all this time,” she said. “So you have got to be the best caregivers you can possibly be.”