The Real Life Diet of Longevity Doctor Mark Hyman, Who Developed a Six-Pack in His 60s

Photograph courtesy of Mark Hyman; Collage: Gabe Conte

At 63 years old, Mark Hyman, MD, founder and senior advisor for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and host of The Doctor’s Farmacy podcast, is the fittest he’s been in his life—and he’s eager to spill his secrets.

“I think most of us think we have to decline as we get older, but we don't,” Dr. Hyman tells GQ. Americans take it for granted that as their birthdays tick along, their bodies will stoop, their pace will slow, and their brain will fog. But actually, Dr. Hyman says, that’s abnormal aging. The research is clear, he says: “We can live long healthy lives and then just die.” A comforting thought, in its way.

As Dr. Hyman reveals in his New York Times bestseller Young Forever, increasing your span of healthy years doesn’t require fancy tech or elaborate routines (although Dr. Hyman is himself a fan of saunas, cold plunges, and binaural beats). “It’s just a consequence of doing the basic things to keep your organism functioning optimally,” he says.

Think of it this way, he tells me when we talk: “If you have a million-dollar race horse, you're going to make sure you know how to train it and feed it and take care of it so it's fully optimized, right?” Dr. Hyman says. “We don't do that with our bodies. We feed it all kinds of crap. We eat fries and junk and sugar, and we don't think about the consequences of how we feel now or how we're going to feel as we get older.”

For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and other high performers about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.

GQ: Do you have a morning routine to start the day off right?

Dr. Mark Hyman: On my typical day, or my ideal day?

Either! Both!

Well, generally my best way to wake up is to start with about 32 ounces of water with electrolytes. Usually I have a cup of coffee, I do a little bit of journaling to gather my thoughts and get myself grounded for the day.

Then I'll do a workout with resistance bands. I really love bands because I travel a lot, and I can take them anywhere with me. I use the TB12 band, Tom Brady’s brand, which has a whole routine to get in stability, strength, and cardio-work. It’s a really intense hour workout.

After that I have what I call my “healthy aging shake,” which is in my book Young Forever. It’s about 40 to 50 grams of regeneratively raised goat whey—I use Mount Capra or Naked Goat—to jumpstart my muscle protein synthesis after exercise. I add in 5 grams of creatine, which also helps with muscle building. And I also add a whole cocktail of other stuff: something called Mitopure, which is a compound that’s called a postbiotic…it’s urolithin A, which induces mitophagy, increases muscle synthesis, increases fitness levels, helps cleaning up old cells, reduces inflammation—just has a lot of benefits. I also put probiotics [in my shake], I put in adaptogenic mushrooms, some frozen berries, maybe some macadamia milk, and whizz it up. That’s my breakfast, and it usually gets me through to lunch.

Oh, I also have a sauna. And if I have enough time I’ll do that, too.

How early do you have to wake up to fit all this in?

Not too early, probably 6:30 a.m. or 7. It takes me about an hour and a half, two hours.

After breakfast, what do your eating habits look like? Three square meals a day? More of a grazer?

I'm not a grazer. Basically. I follow a Pegan diet, which is a plant-rich diet—not “plant-based”; it's a lot of colorful, phytochemically rich vegetables; nuts and seeds; and protein. A lunch, for example, could be a big salad with avocado, arugula. I put in toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts. I'll throw in a can of wild salmon or I’ll have a can of mackerel or a couple sardines on the side; tomatoes, olives, and olive oil. I call it a “fat salad,” because it’s lots of good fats. I eat very low-glycemic, so low starch and sugar.

You mentioned the TB12 workout—do you have an overarching philosophy when it comes to exercise?

I've always been active my whole life—I run, bike, play tennis, ski, swim, do yoga. But at core, there’s four elements of fitness: cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and stability. And stability is really important, I think; as we get older, we lose stability and lose balance. That’s why the resistance bands are really good: They pull you off kilter and off center and you constantly have to stabilize. And I noticed when I started doing that [workout], I was able to run down mountains and jump on rock to rock and not feel tentative. I felt like I was 20 again, which was amazing.

I think if exercise were a drug, it would be the most powerful drug ever invented on the planet. It has the ability to regulate almost every physiological function for the better and to avert many of the chronic diseases that we have, from heart disease to diabetes, cancer, dementia. [Exercise] is incredibly important for mental health, mood, or your microbiome, your immune system, and it regulates many of the pathways that are incredibly powerful for longevity…Essentially there are these longevity switches [in the body], and exercise is the way to turn a lot of them on. It's not the only way—it can be managed by diet, supplements, or phytochemicals, sometimes even medication—but I think exercise is essential. The older you get, the more important it is.

Your most recent book is called Young Forever—is longevity something that's at the forefront of your mind when you're planning your wellness routine?

To me, it's not about living to be 120. It's about feeling great now. And the consequence of doing things that make you feel great now is that you're likely to live a more disease-free, longer life and to get your health span to equal your lifespan.

Your health span is how many years of your life you're healthy, and your lifespan is how many years you're alive. So most of us spend the last 20 percent of our lives in poor health. I think people don't realize that that's optional and that the marginal decade of our life is not something we have to all endure. We can live long, healthy lives and then just die. And the data is pretty clear on this. There’s a famous study from James Fries from Stanford, where he looked at the habits of a large cohort of people and he found that those who kept their ideal body weight, didn't smoke, and exercised lived long healthy lives and died quickly, painlessly, and cheaply, whereas those who didn't follow those behaviors had sort of long, slow declines and died long, expensive, painful deaths.

Is there a common misconception that people have about longevity? What do people get wrong about aging?

I think the thing that most people get wrong is—and it's no fault of their own, because it's what we see all around us and we think it's normal—that decline and disease and decrepitude and frailty are normal consequences of getting older. They're actually not. They're a sign of disease. And the truth is that most of what we see in this country, and increasingly around the world, is abnormal aging. [It is possible to] stay fit and healthy and spry well into your late 80s, 90s, and even beyond.

In Sardinia, I met this guy Pietro, who was 95 years old, bolt-upright, booming voice, clear eyes. He was a shepherd who basically walked five miles a day up the rocky mountainsides of Sardinia herding his sheep. It was just incredible. And I'm like, Wow, I haven't met a 95-year-old like that in America.

And it wasn't because he was genetically different. As soon as those people start eating a Western diet or they come to America, they get all the same crap we do. But it was just he naturally was doing the thing that kept him healthy. He ate a local, seasonal, organic diet full of phytochemicals. Exercise is a normal consequence of his daily life. He had low levels of stress; he had an incredible community of people that kept him engaged. And that's sort of the secret. It's not that complicated. I think in [the U.S.] we have to be a little more diligent because we have more things that are stressing our nervous systems, more toxins, more challenges with accessing healthy food and regular exercise. But it's not impossible. I mean, I'm turning 64 and I feel healthier than I have in decades.

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Is there anything about your body that has surprised you as you've gotten older?

I always had this kind of negative view of bodybuilders, that it was this sort of narcissistic thing that people did to look good. And I kind of knew we should all be strong—I did yoga, I thought that was enough. I thought I was fit. And then in my late 50s, I decided I was going to start strength training. I noticed my body completely changed. It looks better now than it did when I was 40. I was sort of shocked that you could build and put on muscle even into your 60s.

I think one of the most important things that you can do as you get older is to start early to put on muscle and to keep the muscle as you get older. I wish I hadn't had that view of strength training when I was younger. I wish I had been in the gym more or had done strength training more. Muscle is basically the currency of longevity.

You mentioned at the outset that you like to journal in the morning. Are there any other mindfulness practices or wellness habits incorporate into your day to keep your mind sharp?

In general, I think getting nervous system resets on a regular basis is really important, whether it's meditation or breathwork or guided imagery. One of the things I like is binaural beats. You can get an app or you can go on YouTube and put it on, essentially it synchronizes your brainwaves in a way that helps to put you in a deep state of relaxation. So I'll often just put on my headphones, I'll lay in bed, and I'll put on a 20-minute session of binaural beats. I'll pop up much more refreshed.

How strict are you with yourself? Are cheat days a thing for you?

It's interesting—when you’re self-regulated, you don't have to use willpower. Your body kind of craves things that are good for it. So if I walk by a Starbucks with a bunch of those cookies and cakes and stuff, it just looks like a rock to me. I really don't even think of that as food. But I do like ice cream…

Who doesn't?

I don't remember the last time I had ice cream, but maybe every two or three months I'll have ice cream. I'll have dark chocolate. If I want a dessert after a nice meal, I'll have it. I won't deprive myself. It’s really what you do like 90% of the time [that’s important] and it's also how resilient you are.

Originally Appeared on GQ