Vancouver fitness pioneer Ron Zalko wasn’t always trim and healthy. In a recent phone interview with the Georgia Straight, he revealed that he was hooked on fast food in his 20s. The man whose name is now synonymous with exercise said that in those days, he binged at McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC) after moving to Canada from Israel, where there wasn’t a lot of junk food. “So for me, it was something new,” he recalled. “Before I knew it, I looked in the mirror and said: ‘Who is that?’ I stepped on the scale and I couldn’t believe it.”
He was carrying 225 pounds on his relatively short frame—and he didn’t like it one bit. After changing his diet and starting a vigorous exercise program, he was able to trim down to 159 pounds within about six months. So what was his motivation? “I couldn’t get a date,” he confessed.
He hasn’t looked back since. Zalko eventually started competing in the Hawaii Ironman competitions, which involved a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon run. With a laugh, Zalko noted that he used to wear a T-shirt bearing the words “From fat man to Ironman”, which delighted the crowds lining the route.
“Then I decided to bring the Ironman to Canada,” he added, noting that he was the founder of the annual event in Penticton. Meanwhile, Zalko had made a name for himself in the fitness industry, earning praise for his program from actor Jane Fonda, who became North America’s leading promoter of fitness in the 1980s. His gym, Ron Zalko Total Body Fitness & Yoga, has since hosted numerous other celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Amanda Seyfried, Ryan Reynolds, and Alanis Morissette.
The new year is a time when many of us decide to shed those holiday pounds. Zalko said that anyone who wants to transform their body should keep four things in mind: preparation, diet, exercise, and mental health.
To achieve long-term results, Zalko emphasized the importance of getting in the right frame of mind before embarking on any attempt to lose weight. “Start slowly,” he advised. “Don’t go crazy.”
He suggested taking “baby steps” and keeping initial workouts at about 30 minutes before advancing to 40 minutes and, later, to an hour. “When you start seeing the results, you will want to continue with it,” Zalko noted. “It’s not only fun, it’s something that makes people feel good. Their brains are working properly, their relationships are improving, and they’re better at work and more productive.”
“Cut all fat, alcohol, and sugar—that’s the three basics,” Zalko insisted. “You have to eat well: 70 percent is eating well and 30 percent is exercise.”
He recommended eliminating wheat-based products from meals and choosing more vegetables, fruits, and lean meats. Zalko said that he avoids dark meat and encourages people to cut out fatty dressings and instead to put a spoonful of olive oil on salads.
He noted that avocado is a healthy food but it’s also fattening, so people should limit themselves to two slices at a time. Zalko stated that he eats a lot of spinach and kale, quipping that the only problem with spinach is that he has to cut his nails more frequently because it promotes their growth. And he urged people to read the ingredients when shopping for groceries and to avoid buying processed foods. “You want to eat as raw as you can and as green as you can,” Zalko said.
Zalko emphasized that women should lift weights to strengthen their bones and muscles, because that will prevent problems later in life. He also mentioned that women will become more toned and firm after this exercise. “Women are afraid of weights because they think they’re going to be muscular,” he commented. “As long as you don’t take steroids, that won’t happen.”
Muscle mass can also be avoided by including at least 30 minutes of cardio in regular workouts. This will burn off excess fat.
The third area of concern is the core, Zalko added. That’s because it absorbs the pressure of standing and it’s connected to so many muscles, including those in the back. “Core exercises are very important,” he declared. “Lots of people forget about it.”
Zalko is a firm believer in the benefits of yoga, in addition to regular exercise and a proper diet. That’s because research has demonstrated that stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, can undermine the immune system. He pointed out that nowadays, many people sit for long periods in front of computers and video games, which leads to greater obesity. He said that this lack of exercise, in addition to chronic anxiety, may contribute to serious health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. “If you’re really stressed, you should do a little bit of yoga,” he advised.