Every time I hear another story about exercise saving someone’s life, I get a warm feeling inside. The latest comes from Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. Exercise helped Carter lose 65 pounds. After overcoming addiction and a serious heart condition, he wrote about his travails in his new book, “Facing the Music and Living to Talk About It.”
Tell me about your heart problems. You were only 28. That must have really freaked you out.
I was on tour in Europe, and I was partying every night and really depressed. I ended up in Russia, and I remember I was trying to keep up with the local Russians in drinking games and I was feeling terrible. I couldn’t perform on stage to my usual standards, and afterward I went to the doctor, who told me I had drug- and alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy that was weakening my heart. It was a warning that if I stayed on that path I would die.
That must have been a major wake-up call.
The doctor read me the riot act. It really was life or death for me. He said I needed to stop drinking completely. I was overweight and I needed to change, so I just completely went extreme in the other direction. I wanted to fight for my life, so I sobered up. I quit alcohol for a year and stopped taking drugs. A year later the doctor said he couldn’t see the inflammation in my heart anymore.
What kind of role did exercise play in the change?
Exercise has absolutely been a replacement reward for me. It releases chemicals into your body that make you feel better and think more clearly. Once you know how you feel with a hangover and you compare it to how you feel after a workout, it’s a much better high. Your body doesn’t want to be poisoned with alcohol. Every now and then I have a drink, but I don’t like the way it makes me feel, so I’m still battling it. I’m working toward a future where I just don’t drink at all anymore, drinking less and less and working out more and more and eating better and focusing on my work.
Tell me about your regimen. What are your favorite ways to exercise?
I try to do 45 minutes of cardio a day. I’ll do elliptical, run and play basketball. Sometimes I’ll play basketball for four hours a day. I also love swimming and scuba diving, and I love to hike in Malibu Canyon. My fiancée is really into weights. She’s a fitness competitor, and she’s getting me into weights, and it’s tough. We have to work out separately, though, because she’s at such a high level she leaves me in her dust. I need to catch up. I love the fact that she’s that good, and I’m proud of her. We hike together and play volleyball and tennis together. Sometimes we just walk the dogs as a couple.
To lose all that weight, there must have been some dietary changes too.
I eliminated all the candy, cookies and sugar and cakes and cupcakes. I really cut back on the junk food. Then I learned to really love and appreciate food like quinoa and salmon, and I love just eating vegetables that are steamed now. Asparagus. Fruits, salads. The whole vegetable family I’m really into now because it’s so good for you. There are people who look at food for pleasure, but I don’t look at it that way anymore. Now I’m looking at it as a healthy source of fuel.
Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder of sixpackabs.com.