Last year, you may have read the article Salters Scene: The Annual Figure Skating In Harlem Stars Gala by Udo Salters or you watch Dancing with the Stars, you’ve almost certainly noticed: Maksim Chmerkovskiy (simply “Maks” to his legion of fans) is in amazing shape.
You might attribute this to hours and hours on the dance floor, but that’s only a small part of the equation. Maks is not only fit, but also amazingly strong and healthy. He takes his health very seriously and that means subjecting every food, fitness, and lifestyle choice he makes to a simple litmus test: Will this help me meet my goal of living to 120…or will it detract from that goal?
“I truly believe I can make it to 120 and I want it to be an active and vibrant 120,” says the 36-year-old dancer, choreographer, and television personality. “It’s not just about quantity of life, but quality of life. This lifestyle is what allows me to even consider a 45-city tour at my age. Also, I want to be able to play basketball with my kids when they’re teenagers and still kick their butt—I don’t want to be an old dad.
If you’ve seen Maks in his “Maksmob” videos (Check it out at maksmob.com)—or better yet, seen him in person in one of these thrilling flash mobs popping up in cities across the US—you’ll have little trouble believing he can reach his goal.
“To do that in the future, I have to make friends with my body right now,” he adds. “If I get out of its way, and help it do its thing by giving it the right nutrients, it will take care of me in return. It will reward me. It will just live. Yeah, things come to an end—but they don’t have to degrade by the time you’re 60.”
This may sound simple. But if you’ve ever tried to overhaul your habits in this age of processed foods, supersized meals, and electronic distractions that lull you into a sedentary stupor, you know you’re swimming against the tide. Still, Maks is doing it—and he insists the rest of us can, too.
“Once you make up your mind that great health is important to you, the choices become, if not easy, then at least doable,” he promises. “You don’t have to be a celebrity, you don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to have a chef or a personal trainer. You just have to make it a priority to give your body what it needs, and only what it needs.”
Want to join Maks in his quest to live long and prosper? Then consider his 20 “best odds” secrets:
Educate yourself on what to eat and why. Your body is smart and will regulate itself when you get out of the way—but that means learning how best to feed it. Do some research. Don’t limit yourself to “mainstream” resources as many are driven by big food manufacturers with their own agenda. Digging deeper reveals that the typical Western diet—grain-heavy; filled with genetically modified, hormone-infused, processed foods; and deficient in many nutrients—is counter to what the body needs to operate at its best.
“You need to know why you’re choosing certain foods and avoiding others,” says Maks. “When you know a food causes inflammation in your body or creates insulin surges that lead to diabetes, you’ll want to steer clear of it so your natural healing processes can work. When you know overcooked meats are dangerous, you’ll stop overcooking. When you know what free radicals are, you’ll eat antioxidant-rich foods to fight them. This is what I mean by making friends with your body.”
Learn which nutrients you are missing and supplement them. Almost everyone is deficient in certain vitamins (D, for example) and minerals. That’s why Maks starts each morning with three supplements he believes are the foundation for good health. The list includes Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C, Lypo-Spheric Glutathione, and Lypo-Spheric R-ALA (all from LivOn Labs). He is so sold on these products, which he has taken for years, that he has introduced them to his entire family, and he recently agreed to become a brand ambassador for LivOn Labs.
“My doctor told me that most supplements aren’t absorbed well by the body, but the LivOn supplements have a special delivery system that lets them reach the cells more quickly and efficiently,” says Maks. “That’s why I started taking them. I would never endorse any product if I didn’t 100 percent believe in it. That’s just not who I am. These supplements will make a difference!
“Besides the LivOn stuff, I also take 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D,” he adds. “I also take palm fruit extract in powder form, which is incredible for cardiovascular health from its multiple forms of vitamin E. The palm fruit extract also has an excellent source of vitamin A that I combine with vitamin K2. This combination of vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin K2 contribute to strong bone formation and fight against the progression of osteoporosis as we age. This combination also controls the formation of calcium build up and plaque formation in my vessels!”
Make a conscious decision to stay well. No matter how often you wash your hands during cold and flu season, you’ll never be able to shield yourself from every germ. What you can do is follow a best odds regimen to strengthen your immune system so you get sick less often. In Maks‘s case, that means adhering to a natural “clean eating” regimen as well as supplementing with the aforementioned Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C.
“I’ve always been a big believer in vitamin C,” he adds. “I take it to kickstart my immune system. I can’t tell you the last time I got sick. When I traveled with my family for New Year’s Eve, everyone came home sick except for me.
“When you have a busy life, you have to stay well,” he adds. “And when you are sick, it alters you as a person. You’re not yourself. You’re nasty and have a short temper. You whine like a baby. No one wants to be like that. Plus, you get behind on commitments and that leads to even more stress!”
Try to maintain a healthy body weight, too. Maks points to the popular A&E Network show Fit to Fat to Fit—in which trainers purposely gain a lot of weight in order to lose it again alongside their clients—as the pinnacle of self-destructive behavior. He says most people don’t realize how dangerous yo-yo dieting (even the far less extreme versions that many people do) can be.
“People just don’t bounce back from rapid weight change,” he says. “Your hormones get out of whack, and then you are screwed. This is no different from smoking. You’re killing yourself when you let yourself get really fat or when you lose weight too fast or in unsustainable ways—and it’s unnatural to kill yourself.”
Find a doctor who believes in prevention—and don’t go only when you’re sick. Maks‘s own doctor introduced him to so much of what he knows about nutrition and supplementation. He admits this is unusual, which is why he believes that as a nation, our relationship with healthcare providers needs to change.
“Most people go to the doctor only when stuff hurts,” notes Maks. “But we need to use our doctors to help us stay healthy, not just to try to fix what’s wrong. We can show up when we are not sick, and if enough people start doing that, doctors will have no choice but to start getting more involved in prevention.”
If it’s man-made, don’t eat it. Maks bases his diet on lean grass-fed meats and organic, GMO-free fruits and vegetables. This is not as hard as you might think, he says. Processed foods are an addiction, and when you’re hooked on them, it’s hard to imagine quitting. But once you do, you won’t want to go back.
“Try eating real foods, not chemically engineered foods made in a laboratory,” he advises. “You’ll quickly see that this is what the body wants and needs. And you don’t have to live on lettuce like a rabbit—there are so many fresh, natural, delicious foods out there that you’ll never feel bored or deprived.”
Cut way down on wheat, sugar, and corn. Grains are inflammatory, says Maks—wheat in particular. Bread is full of sugar, which spikes your insulin and forces the body to work hard to level it, leading to diabetes. Speaking of sugar, studies show it’s more addictive than cocaine. And if you’re avoiding genetically modified foods, you’d better swear off corn—the vast majority of it is GMO.
“It’s best if you can cut these things out altogether,” says Maks. “At least eat them as little as possible. Instead of wheat, use spelt flour. Instead of white sugar, eat raw honey. There are all kinds of great alternatives out there that taste amazing.”
Saying, “It’s too expensive” is usually a cop-out. Yes, it is expensive to eat healthfully now, admits Maks. But not doing so will cost far more 20 years down the road when you’re sick and fat and all your money is going to doctors. If you have to drive an old car and cancel your cable, it’s worth it—there is no higher priority than taking care of your body and providing for the long-term health of your family.
“When my family moved from Ukraine, we didn’t have much money,” says Maks. “But we had been used to eating vegetables grown in my grandmother’s garden and had an appreciation for these whole, natural foods. So once we got to America, my dad got a second job so we wouldn’t have to eat at McDonald’s every day. I am grateful for that because I learned early that good health is worth sacrifice.”
Another cop-out? “I can’t get that around here.” Maybe you’re thinking, Sure, I’d love to switch to grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and organic fruits and veggies. But grocery stores around here don’t carry that stuff. First of all, that’s probably not true. There is most likely a natural foods store within driving distance; even tiny towns have them now. But even if this isn’t the case where you live, this is the Age of Amazon—virtually everything can be ordered online and shipped right to your door.
“I like to make pancakes out of spelt flour,” says Maks. “Okay, maybe you can’t get it at your supermarket, but you can order a five-pound bag from Berlin Natural Bakery and it will last you half a year. It doesn’t matter where you live anymore. We all have access to healthful foods.”
Pay attention to what’s REALLY in your food—especially those old familiars you take for granted. Ketchup is a good example. Most of us eat it because we always have. We grew up on it and we love the taste. But once we know what’s in it—tons of sugar, sodium, and artificial preservatives—how can we in good conscience keep eating it and feeding it to our kids?
“Eating ketchup is a habit for most of us, and habits can be hard to break,” says Maks. “People in my own household keep eating it even though they know they shouldn’t. They say, ‘But I like ketchup!’ So I get how hard it is to give up ketchup—but it can be done.”
Throw out your microwave. Many people believe cooking with a microwave oven is inherently dangerous as it changes the molecular structure of your foods and zaps their nutrients. (Plus, of course, the radiation it emits is harmful.) But even beyond these issues, taking this one step can squelch the temptation to eat processed “convenience foods.”
“When microwaving is not an option, you will give meal preparation the time and effort it deserves,” says Maks. “You’ll be more likely to prepare good, healthful, whole foods.”
Believe it or not, it’s fine to skip breakfast. “Three times a week I do a 16-hour fast,” says Maks. “I have a normal dinner and then the next day I skip breakfast. I wake up, take my daily supplements, and have some coffee, but don’t have my first meal until around 1:00 or 1:30. It makes me feel cleaner and healthier. Just don’t go over 16 hours, because after that the body starts suffering.”
Visualize what your food is doing in your body. Maks says this is a little trick that motivates him to make positive food choices. If a food is natural and healthful, as you eat it, picture it fueling your body, building your muscles, plumping up your cells. On the other hand, if it’s junk food, visualize it tearing your body down.
“When you envision the process that goes on inside you, it’s a game changer,” says Maks. “What you’re doing starts to seem very real. You realize there is a benefit or a cost to everything you put in your body and this will drive the right decisions.”
You don’t have to be a gym rat—but you do have to exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight, you have probably heard that food is 90 percent of the battle. And while it’s true that you don’t need to live at the gym (Maks insists he doesn’t), it also doesn’t mean you get a pass on exercise.
“Feeding your muscles is pointless if you don’t let them do anything,” he says. “Find an activity you enjoy, and one that meets your needs, and make it a part of your life. Try dancing. It’s fun and gets you moving!”
Sign up for a fitness event and tap into your competitive nature. Maks is a big believer in competition. He has spent his life having his performance measured and being ranked against others. In his dance training, he was required to improve every lesson, which led to continuous improvement and built discipline. That’s why, if you’re having trouble making yourself work out, he suggests you sign up for a race or perhaps take a class where you can hold yourself to a standard and strive to get better and better.
“We are afraid to admit that human beings are competitive by nature,” he says. “It’s an old-school belief but it’s true. For most people it’s not enough to just say, ‘I want to lose 60 pounds.’ There has to be a bigger reason and that reason is competition. It’s, ‘I want to be better than her,’ or even just, ‘I want to be better than my old self.’ It’s powerful; it works, so why not use it?
“If you are signed up for a race, you’ll do anything to try to get the upper hand,” adds Maks. “That means you probably won’t just train; you’ll do the nutrition part, too. It all works together organically.”
Just make sure you’re doing the RIGHT exercises for your needs. Similar to his advice on food, Maks says it’s important to know why you’re doing the workout you’re doing. For example, when he’s getting ready for a tour, he works out more than usual, following a program designed for these specific needs.
“When I’m at the gym, I see women in full makeup and high-heeled sneakers,” he says. “I see guys trying to lift heavy things to look cool. But ask them what its purpose is and they don’t know. They are just hurting themselves and will find out later when they start having joint problems and muscle issues.”
Maks on alcohol: “Have a drink here and there. Pinot noir is perfect.” Maks enjoys this red wine due in part to its cardiovascular benefits. He also doesn’t object to an occasional shot of good tequila. It fits in with his “everything in moderation” view of life. If you enjoy alcohol (and don’t have an addiction, obviously!), he sees nothing wrong with drinking it.
“You should enjoy yourself but certainly don’t let yourself get to the point where you can’t function,” he says. “You rarely see a professional drunk become a billionaire! So be aware of why you like to drink. If you feel the need to alter your mood and reality all the time, some bigger problems might be going on.”
Get enough sleep for your needs—but don’t sweat the “eight hours” thing. Sleep is important, sure. But instead of following the standard “everyone needs eight hours a night” advice, Maks is more likely to listen to his body. He rests when he is tired and sleeps until he feels refreshed.
“I’m a night owl and probably not a perfect example of great sleep habits,” he admits. “I focus more on nutrition as the main building block for good health. If I make that a priority, then everything else is fixable. If I miss a few hours of sleep, I can always go to bed earlier the next night, but if I start eating crap, it takes half a year to get back.”
Preach the gospel to your friends and family. Never ever let up! Maks is passionate about good health and the problems with the food industry and believes it’s his duty to influence his friends and family—and, yes, his fans. It’s more than a hobby or an interest; it’s a cause. Talking about health has become a big part of his personal brand, which in turn keeps him accountable to living by his own rules.
“Some people can talk about politics all day,” he adds. “To me, this is the most important thing. I want the people I care about to know how to live the right way. And I want everyone to know we have to start supporting the small farmer, not the person who presses a button on an assembly line. I’m not going to stop talking about it. And since I’m talking about it, I’m going to keep walking the walk.”
“I value good health and I am extremely disciplined about nutrition and fitness only because of the parents I had,” he adds. “They instilled those values in me, and it was the greatest gift they could have given me. They get the credit for who I am. I want my own children to be able to say that about me someday.”
Talk to your future self. This trick helps you make the right health decisions. When Maks came to Hollywood in his mid-20s, he fell into glittering social circles that included high-profile celebrities. Friends stayed up all night smoking, binge drinking, doing drugs. While at the time it felt like he was missing out, Maks is now glad he never did these things. Now, when he is tempted to eat the wrong foods, he remembers the true price of self-destructive behaviors.
“I like to pretend I am talking to myself 20 years from now,” he says. “I think, What would that conversation be like? And I know that my 55-year-old self would say, ‘Thank you for taking care of me. I’m still here. I’m still loving life. I get to golf, travel, and hang out with my beautiful wife, my kids, my family. I’m happy and healthy and that’s because of the choices you made 20 years ago.'”
Ultimately, Maks takes a hard line on health because he truly believes that we have the ability to make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. And knowing that, why wouldn’t we make the changes we need to make?
“Something may happen to me and I won’t make it to 120,” he says. “But even if I don’t, the years I’m alive will be healthier and happier than if I had neglected my body. If I just get to be 60 or 70, I am not willing to spend my life in the hospital. I don’t want to look back and think, Maks, you were an idiot. So I try really hard not to be an idiot now.”
Maksim “Maks” Chmerkovskiy is a Ukrainian-American Latin and ballroom dance champion, choreographer, and instructor. He is widely known as one of the professional dancers on the American television series Dancing with the Stars. He is also the founder of Dance with Me, one of the nation’s leading Latin and ballroom dance studios, which has locations throughout the country. He recently announced plans for a 45-city live tour with his younger brother, Valentin. The tour, titled Maks & Val Live On Tour: Our Way, is scheduled to begin June 15, 2016.
Photo credit: Michael Rosenthal