If you’re a Dancing With the Stars fan (or a woman with eyeballs and a pulse), you’ve definitely noticed that Maksim Chmerkovskiy — or Maks — is in ridiculous shape. Sure, the hours on the dance floor spent whirling celebs in circles is part of his fitness equation, but even when the dancing shoes are off, Maks takes his health very seriously. Every food, fitness and lifestyle choice he makes is subject to this simple litmus test: Will this help me meet my goal of living to 120?
“I truly believe I can make it to 120 [years old],” says the 36-year-old dancer, choreographer and television personality. “But it’s not just about quantity of life but also quality. I want to be able to play basketball with my kids when they’re teenagers and still kick their butts — I don’t want to be an ‘old’ dad, so I have to make friends with my body right now. By giving it the right nutrients, it will take care of me in return.”
Sounds simple, but after a long, hard day, giving in to processed foods, supersized meals and electronic distractions is enticing. “But once you make up your mind that great health is important to you, the choices become 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.”
Maks takes a hard line on health because he truly believes that everyone has the ability to make a difference in the quality of their lives. “Even if I don’t make it to 120, the years I’m alive will be healthier and happier,” he says. “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.”
Join Maks in his quest to live long and prosper by following these fitness edicts.
Don’t be a nutrition lemming.
Every day, there is a new trend or diet that is über-popular. But rather than following the herd, do some research and figure out what is truth and what is hype.
Maks bases his own diet on lean, grass-fed meats and organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Eating this way is not as hard as you might think, he insists, noting that processed foods can be addictive.
“Eat 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.”
Find a doctor who believes in prevention.
Maks’ own doctor educated him on much of what he knows today about nutrition, which the star admits is unusual. “Most people go to the doctor only when stuff hurts,” Maks says. “But we need to use our doctors to help us stay healthy, not just to try to fix what’s wrong. Show up when you are not sick, then doctors will have no choice but to get more involved in prevention.”
Think of healthful eating as an investment.
It might be a little pricy to eat healthfully right now, Maks admits, but think of it as a long-term investment: Twenty years down the line, you’ll save thousands on doctor bills and medications. Even if you have to drive a beat-up car or pass on the latest fashion trend to counterbalance the cost of healthy living, it will be worth it.
“When my family moved from Ukraine, we didn’t have much money,” Maks says. “We were used to eating vegetables grown in my grandmother’s garden, and we had an appreciation for these whole, natural foods. Once we got to America, my dad got a second job so we wouldn’t have to eat at McDonald’s. I am grateful for that because I learned early that good health is worth sacrifice.”
Every food — yes every food — is within reach.
Even if there is not a natural food store within driving distance, this is the age of Amazon — and there is virtually nothing that can’t be ordered online and shipped right to your door.
“I like to make pancakes out of spelt flour, for example,” Maks says. “You can’t get it at your supermarket, maybe, but you can order a 5-pound bag [online] and it will last you half a year. It doesn’t matter where you live anymore. We all have access to healthful foods.”
Sideline your microwave.
Decreasing your microwave usage can squelch the temptation to eat processed, convenience foods. “When microwaving is not an option, you’ll give meal preparation the time and effort it deserves,” Maks says. “You’ll be more likely to prepare and eat good, healthful, whole foods.”
Visualize what your food is doing in your body.
As you eat a natural, healthful food, picture it fueling your body, building your muscles and plumping up your cells. Conversely, visualize a junk food tearing your body down. “When you envision the process that goes on inside you, it’s a game changer,” Maks says. “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.”
Tap into your competitive nature.
Maks spent his life having his performance measured and ranked against others. This ultimately led to continuous improvement and built discipline. If you’re having trouble making a habit of exercise, he recommends signing up for a race or taking a class where you hold yourself to a standard and strive to get better.
“Human beings are competitive by nature,” he says. “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 my old self.’ It’s powerful, it works, so why not use it?”
Don’t sweat the “eight hours of sleep” thing.
Sleep is important, but Maks’ advice: Rest when you’re tired and sleep until you feel refreshed. “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,” he says. “I’m a night owl and probably not a perfect example of great sleep habits. So I focus more on nutrition as the main building block for good health. If I make that a priority, then everything else is fixable.”
Pay it forward.
Maks is passionate about good health and believes it’s his duty to influence his friends and family — and, yes, his fans. “I am extremely disciplined about nutrition and fitness because of the parents I had,” he says. “They instilled those values in me, and it was the greatest gift they could have given me. I want my own children to be able to say that about me someday.”
Talking about health has become a big part of his personal brand, which in turn keeps him accountable to his own high standard. “Some people can talk about politics all day, but to me, health is the most important thing,” he says. “I want the people I care about to know how to live the right way.
Talk to your future self.
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 and doing drugs. While at the time it felt like he was missing out, Maks is now glad he never partook. 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 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.’”
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. Since 2014, Maks has performed in SWAY: A Dance Trilogy, a live ballroom dance show that also stars his brother, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and Tony Dovolani. He is currently touring with his brother in a show called Maks & Val Live On Tour: Our Way.