How to age well: video game company CEO Strauss Zelnick, 63, on achieving 8 per cent body fat
- ‘America’s fittest CEO’ shares lessons learned from years of personal practice and research
- He believes in varying workout sessions, and says strength training is vital to staying young
Strauss Zelnick says fitness is the key to juggling his busy personal and professional life. It has kept the American businessman at the top of his game for four decades.
The former president of BMG Entertainment and chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox is now chief executive and chairman of video game company Take-Two Interactive Software – which owns Rockstar Games, makers of the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series. He also set up private equity firm Zelnick Media Capital (ZMC).
The 63-year-old has been married for 31 years and has three children. He’s 1.83 metres (six feet) tall, weighs 75kg (165 pounds) and has eight per cent body fat. In 2019 he was voted “America’s Fittest CEO” by Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness and Best Life.
Zelnick shares his lessons from years of personal practice and research which he has distilled into 12-week plans built around what he calls the “the four pillars of youthful living” – movement, nutrition, mindfulness and community – to help readers get into their best shape.
“The ‘becoming ageless’ approach is for everyone, regardless of your fitness level or athletic ability,” says Zelnick. The plans encourage making small but meaningful changes that collectively render high-impact results, and include the best ways to lose belly fat, healthy yet delicious meal plans, and workouts.
The plans are designed to make physical activity an everyday fixture, beginning with two weeks of body-weight exercises, walking and stretching, and leading up to performing strength circuits, a combination of high-intensity exercises, up to three times a week.
Zelnick’s fitness journey took off when he was 38 years old, after his wife jokingly said: “Honey, you really don’t look all that good for a guy who spends so much time in the gym.”
“That did it,” says Zelnick, who vowed to apply the same rigour he did in his professional life to fitness. “Because I was not overweight, I never thought about nutrition,” he says, adding his meals at the time were often big, and heavy on carbs and confectionery.
“Although I didn’t necessarily look out of shape, I didn’t look or feel my best either, despite working out in the gym,” he says, adding he was not regular with his workouts.
His first step was to get a trainer, with whom he began working out three mornings a week. Next, he addressed his poor diet: “I cut out alcohol and all unhealthy dishes I would consume without thinking twice.” That included all fried food, fruit juice and soft drinks.
Zelnick also started cycling with a group of friends and added other forms of workout, incorporating cardio and strength training – from boxing and high-intensity exercises such as running, swimming and body weight training to weight training and yoga.
“It’s important to vary your training routine. Boring training sessions lead to missed training sessions,” says Zelnick, whose morning cycling group morphed into a team of 80 or so members of different ages and backgrounds, with 15 to 20 participating in a workout on any given day.
“Our workouts evolved over a decade and we gave the exercise routine a name – ‘The Program,’” says Zelnick, who trains at 6am, four days a week with the group, whose members’ average age is 27 years.
“We’re a tribe of upbeat people who share a common goal and encourage one another to succeed. When you share effort, struggle and sweat, you create an energy, a sense of accountability and a spirit of teamwork that can carry you through a gruelling workout. This tribe has changed my body, improved my health and enriched my soul,” says Zelnick.
Tim Walsh, a resident of New York and a regular member of ‘The Program’, describes it as a community of exceptional human beings who bring out the best in each other.
“Strauss is the life force. He designs the workouts for an inclusive range of fitness abilities and leads them himself. The sessions are hard, but I follow them regularly and as a result, I am as fit as I’ve ever been,” says 43-year-old Walsh, who is co-founder of Carbon Arc, a decision intelligence firm. “Having an incredibly fit and accomplished CEO sweating it out on the floor next to you is a great motivator.”
“I knew I wanted to have enough energy to be successful in my career and spend time with my family,” says Zelnick, who credits discipline and a common-sense approach to being able to achieve his fitness goals.
No transformation can be achieved overnight. Zelnick recommends starting slowly and easing into a workout programme.
“While we have no control over the passage of time, we can control how well we age. Building physical, mental and spiritual strength improves everything – from family life and friendships to business success and self-confidence,” he says.