Healthy To A Hundred: Gregory Damian of Abs At 60 On 5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Have a Healthy Level of Stress — Too much stress is harmful to us. So is not enough stress. Do not retire. Change vocations to something you love. Try to do something you love every day.

The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Gregory Damian.

Gregory Damian is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutrition Advisor who holds three degrees and was enrolled in a Biomedical Engineering PhD program.

Having competed in running, triathlon and bodybuilding events throughout his life, at the age of 60 Greg stays in the best shape of his life.

A published author and public speaker, Greg’s mission is to help people look and feel younger than ever.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

I was born in 1962 in Huntington, IN. When I was eight years old, my parents moved our family from Buffalo, NY to Huntsville, AL. In 1983, I received My BS in engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In 1984, I earned an MSME degree with a focus on robotic technology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1989, I completed a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Indiana University with an emphasis on information technology. In 2006, I completed medical school prerequisites and started a biomedical engineering PhD.

I am a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and have held the ACE personal trainer certification. I also hold a personal training certification from the Colgan Institute and earned the Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor status from the Cory Holly Institute.

In 1988, I started competing in running and triathlon races. I completed two full marathons, many half marathons, and shorter running races, as well as Half Ironman and shorter distance triathlon races. My best result was winning the US Half Marathon running race in Denver, CO, in 2004. In 2012, I was ranked 217 out of 2,793 male triathletes (top 8%) in the US in the 50-to-54 age group.

In 2004, I performed 495 pull-ups in an hour in a world record attempt. The world record at that time was 504 pull-ups. In my 50s, I won pull-up contests by completing over 40 pull-ups in one set.

I won two Colorado State bantamweight bodybuilding competitions in my 50s and, in 2015, won third place in the master’s men-35-and-over division at the Masters Nationals Bodybuilding event in Pittsburgh, PA.

I currently live near Phoenix, AZ, and volunteer for several organizations in the Phoenix area.

I am grateful for all my experiences, and I love everyone who I met during my journeys.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your work? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Thank you. I would like to share this story. I was raised by Catholic parents, and I completed the Catholic tradition of confirmation. However, the practice of rituals and a judgmental God never made sense to me, so I left the Catholic church after I graduated from high school. After leaving the church, I studied the Greek text of the Bible in an attempt to find the true meaning of the scriptures. I did not feel moved or inspired by this, and I tried other Christian churches, but none of them resonated with me. For the next 30 years, I embraced science and materialism. I was agnostic, mostly indifferent to religion and spirituality.

In a self-improvement class, I performed an exercise with a buddy. We had to give our buddy a gift that represented something that we did not see in ourselves. In my case, my buddy was giving me a gift related to spirituality. I said to myself, “Oh great, here comes a Bible.” Instead, the gift I received was a small statue of a Hindu goddess. It was perfect for me because I realized how narrowly I had been perceiving spirituality. It had never occurred to me there were forms of spirituality other than the ones I had been previously exposed to. I did not adopt Hinduism, but the doors of new possibilities were opening for me. I am grateful for the wonderful gift I received. My new spirituality has provided me with opportunities for growth and insights that have proven valuable to me in ways I could not have predicted or expected.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

After graduating from college, I moved to Florida, and I started drinking regularly. Fortunately for me, I met a marathon runner, Dave, who encouraged me to run with him, which I did. I was surprised how good of a runner I was. However, alcohol was becoming a problem for me. I saw that I could not run as well the morning after drinking. Perhaps this sounds obvious, but I had seen the affect alcohol had on my father and now the effects of alcohol were becoming real to me, and I did not like it.

One Friday after work, I had a few drinks. Afterwards, I was driving aggressively through I-95 traffic in my Mazda RX-7, but a voice in my head suggested that I slow down. I immediately reduced my speed to the legal limit and looked over my right shoulder to see a state trooper glaring at me. I was fortunate that I was not pulled over, as I was probably over the legal blood alcohol limit. That event powerfully impacted me, and I decided to stop drinking.

I found out that Dave had been a recovering alcoholic, was active in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and hadn’t had any alcohol in almost 50 years when he died. I suspected the reason he took special interest in me was because he had his own problems with alcohol, but he never disclosed that to me. I am grateful that Dave showed interest in me and helped me.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

My off the tongue answer is that I am dedicated, curious and a learner. What is missing from this list is faith. I am not talking about faith in God, but rather, faith in my fellows and most importantly faith in myself. This was critical for me to stay on a healthy path. Everyone who knows me says I am dedicated to health and fitness and my number one strength, as assessed though testing, is I am a continuous learner. I am always looking to learn something new. At first my learning was related to some technical skill or biology or chemistry. Now I am most happy if I learn something that helps me become a better person and kinder to other people.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

In 2004 I read Roy Wofford, MD’s book, The 120-Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years.MS1 Wofford was the physician in the first mission of Biosphere II. Set in rural Arizona, the project was an experiment to determine the viability of a closed ecosystem to sustain human life. I visited Biosphere II and I was so inspired I quit my job because I wanted to help people be healthy. This was a bold move as I was already in my early 40s. I took medical school prerequisites and applied to medical school. I scored well on the challenging Medical College Admissions Test and was granted an interview with the University of Colorado Medical School.

During my studies, I realized that I was interested in preventative approaches to health, fitness and longevity and not drugs or surgery. I was not accepted into medical school, but I was accepted into a biomedical engineering PhD program. It was not the right place for me. My advisor’s research was related to studying the mechanical properties of DNA and this had nothing to do with health or longevity, so after one term I returned to my prior work. These studies, however, provided me with the background to better understand the biology and chemistry of our bodies and the importance of the scientific method.

I was accepted into Naturopathic Medical school when I was 58. I decided that I knew enough already to help people and I did not need four more years of school to accomplish this.

Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.

After I was divorced, I engaged in several self-help programs and made myself uncomfortable from time to time. For example, I resigned from my job with a large software company and took a risk to work for a startup. Since the startup was running out of funds, and I left to take a job with a small company where I knew some people from earlier in my career. The project that I was working on was difficult and after nine months I was thinking of doing something drastic and I said to myself, “If not now, when, and if not me, who?”

I resigned and gave away most of my belongings. The recipient of my bed was the building housekeeper. She shared that the bed would be for her undocumented Mexican nephew whose father had been murdered. I will never forget the image of the old, beat-up truck pulling away with my furniture and how my bed would be used.

I moved to a yoga center on the Big Island of Hawaii where I worked in the kitchen. I made friends there but after three months, I decided to move on. I traveled to Ecuador where I volunteered at a retreat center, studied Spanish, and visited the Galapagos Islands where I dove with hammerhead sharks. I could have continued living like this for some time, but I realized that I enjoy challenges and being a part of something significant, so I returned to the United States with the idea of helping people live healthier lives.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)

Have Purpose — Having a powerful purpose will provide us the energy of life for as long as we need to fulfill our purpose.

Have Positive Beliefs — Believe that the universe is benevolent and looking out for you. “Today is going to be a great day.”

Have a Healthy Level of Stress — Too much stress is harmful to us. So is not enough stress. Do not retire. Change vocations to something you love. Try to do something you love every day.

Have Positive Relationships — Without relationships we cannot share or have experiences. If you don’t like people, at least get a dog. The dog (god spelled backwards) will be happy to see you every time you come home.

Be Happy and Present — Life is never lived in the past of future. Every day is a gift.

Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?

Forget what anyone has told you about what you need to do or be to be happy. The most important news is this. Only you can decide what it takes to be happy. Here is a secret, set the bar to your happiness really low. Don’t make it necessary for twelve things to happen before you can be happy. Be happy because one of those twelve things might happen. If that that does not work, at least get a dog.

Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?

No one knows how to avoid death. You or I might not live to tomorrow. What is most important is that we maximize the quality of our days. This is not to suggest that we should not plan on living a long life, we should, but we don’t know how long we are going to be here no matter what our genetics are or what we do. We should do things that make us happy every day. It may seem that I am avoiding your question with this answer, and I do believe that what we do and believe is more important than the genes we were born with, but what is more important than that is being happy, and being happy will probably help us live a long time and if we don’t, well, at least we were happy.

Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?

After I stopped drinking, I started exercising every day, and this became my new, healthier, habit. As I trained, I improved my athletic performances. However, my success in athletics did not improve my self-esteem towards women or what I could accomplish professionally. I only dated a couple of times in my twenties. I even left my job to go back to school to get an MBA and so I could date, but I did not date once when I was back in school. What I did have was a belief that if I took care of myself, some day in the future, my time would come.

I did eventually get married and divorced. While I was moving my things after my divorce, I came across pictures of myself in my 20’s. I was stunned because I saw a good-looking guy who simply lacked self-confidence. I had the moment where I realized that the only person holding me back all these years was… me. This was important. I knew my day was coming.

I set an appointment with a photographer for a week after my 60th birthday. Leading up to the event, I was disciplined with my diet and training to be as lean as I could be. I was hoping I could use my pictures to inspire other people to live healthier and fulfilling lives. A week after the photo shoot, I received the photos. I was very happy with what I saw. I reflected, and I realized that my belief that one day would be mine was true and that day was now. I decided I should the use the pictures along what I learned and experienced to write a book to help people live long lives and be present and happy every day.

I would like to thank Byron Medina for his photography work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Another friend of mine named Dave told me that what matters is what we do 80% of the time. I have thought about this a lot. I must have because he said this to me over 30 year ago. The more I have thought about this the more I agree with Dave. The stress that comes along with doing something 90 plus percent of the time usually isn’t worth it. If I can’t make a work out happen, that is life. I’ll be fine by getting to the gym tomorrow. Be consistent but not fanatical.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We are all in this together.

I believe every single person on the planet is equally special and important. No one is better than anyone else. Not rich people or poor people, not white people or people of color, not democrats or republicans, not educated people or illiterate people, not healthy people or sick people. We can and must improve the opportunity for every single person because we are all one.

The idea that a small number of people should benefit from longevity or health strategies, while the quality of life for many people is still quite low, is, at least, selfish and is a tragedy for people experiencing poverty. This tragedy is even more acute when it is driven by a lack of will rather than a lack of resources. For example, there is plenty of food and water, but we, as a race, choose not to distribute it to all of the places where it is needed.

While I was considering this, I read Pagan Kennedy’s article, “The Secret to a Longer Life? Don’t Ask These Dead Longevity Researchers.” In the article, Kennedy made two profound statements that resonated with me. “We should all fight for other people’s health. Your decisions can affect me when I die and vice versa,” and “Aging is not some kind of competitive sport you play against your peers. When it comes to staying alive, we’re all in it together.” In this article, Kennedy interviewed Dr. Charles Brenner, who in 2004 discovered the cellular effects of nicotinamide riboside agreed, saying, “the decisions that we make collectively might be the most important ones.”

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

Please visit my web site at www.absat60.com or instagram.com/gregdamianabsat60.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 best-selling author, syndicated columnist, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC. He has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been featured on Fox News, The Wrap, and has worked with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, BuzzFeed, Food Network, WW and Bloomberg. Savio has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad. His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. Savio pens a weekly newsletter in which he delves into secrets to living smarter by feeding your “three brains” — head, heart, and gut— in the hope of connecting the dots to those sticky parts of our nature that matter to living our best life.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor