Eric Zalas was looking for a fresh challenge.
“After retiring from a successful marketing career, I hunkered down in my home office and immediately wrote five consecutive books (on euchre),” said Zalas, who retired from Roche in 2015. “I loved it. But spending that much time at the computer writing 10 hours a day came with a price. I got out of shape. So, I made a conscious decision to change all that. I joined Lifetime Fitness in Fishers and slowly began the process of transforming my body and improving my overall health. Weightlifting was just a natural progression in the evolution of developing a healthy lifestyle. It’s now part of my DNA. It feels odd if I don’t get over to the gym to get on a treadmill or lift some weights. I love having a healthy routine.”
The 70-year-old Carmel resident lifts more than 1 million pounds a month. He started the process when he was 69 and lifted 13 million pounds in one year.
“Think of it as a process with a number of steps,” he said. “Many times, we need a catalyst to kick start the change process. Mine was getting on the weight scale and seeing a big number. That shock gave me the instant motivation to lose weight. The second step had two components. First, commit to moving my body, and second, make some simple changes in the foods that I consumed. I began walking on the treadmill at Lifetime Fitness in Fishers and taking 2 1/2-mile walks around my subdivision. Not surprisingly I met dozens of great neighbors by simply making the effort to get outdoors and walk.”
Next, Zalas said he cut out non-nutritious things from his diet like sugary drinks, sweets, ice cream and junk food.
‘These simple changes provided big returns,” he said. “I lost about 37 pounds in that first year and began to look good. At that point, my weight began to plateau. This is completely normal. It happens to almost everyone. My third step was to reach out to others for help.”
Charlene Helton, a young MBA student and Roche employee who Zalas had mentored, spent several hours going through her entire kitchen cupboard to teach him about nutrition.
“Her guidance led me to Dr. Sherry Zang’s company, Genopalate, a DNA-based nutrition guidance program that could help me understand my nutrition requirements at the genetic level,” he said. “With help from a licensed dietician, I used my personal nutrition report from Genopalate to structure a diet and vitamin regimen specifically designed for my unique DNA to promote weight loss and get back into shape. Genopalate was a game changer for me. After that first year, I was ready to take the fourth step in my process — meeting with my personal physician, Dr. Scott Potter. I wanted a really detailed health evaluation, so I scheduled an MRI, heart scan, blood tests and a complete physical examination prior to beginning a weightlifting program.”
Zalas said one should confer with their physician before starting a strenuous exercise program.
“The final step of my process was to find a personal fitness trainer,” he said “It was important to have a professional trainer show me the right exercises for my body and teach me the proper techniques to weight train safely. I selected Jarrett Simon, manager of personal training at Lifetime Fitness in Indianapolis, as my personal trainer. Jarrett is extremely knowledgeable and likable. Together, we designed three, one-hour sessions to help me really understand weight training for my arms and shoulders, chest and core and legs. It’s important for seniors to begin any weight-training program with a trainer to avoid an unfortunate injury which might keep you out of the gym for months, or worse.”
Besides getting in shape, Zalas had another motivation.
“When my late father, Ben, was 91, he was watching television in the living room one afternoon and found that he couldn’t lift himself up out of his chair,” Zalas said of his father, who died at age 96 in 2018. “I don’t want that to happen to me. So, building up my strength and staying strong is really important. I’m 6-foot-4 and now weigh 218 pounds and can bench press about 50 pounds more than my body weight. I feel humble but also a deep sense of inner satisfaction for accomplishing this as a 70-year-old man. The American College of Sports Medicine now recommends weight training for all people over 50 and contends that people well into their 90s can benefit.”
Zalas said a recent study at Tufts University found that weightlifting can protect broken bones and improve balance and agility.
“All these things make it less likely that you’ll suffer a nasty fall,” Zalas said. “I believe weight training helps me sleep better, has enhanced my overall mood and certainly contributed to a healthy level of self-confidence.”
Simon said Zalas is driven and committed.
“For him, losing weight and regaining his health was his main driver when we first met,” Simon said. “I would see him on the treadmill every day as he would warm up for at least 45 minutes each day before lifting weights. One day, Eric approached me and displayed his concern that he wasn’t seeing a ton of strength improvements. I explained the purpose of progressive overload and increasing repetitions to gain muscle mass. That was all it took for Eric to start striving for success. Every day since then, Eric has been dedicated to strength training and tracking how much weight he has been able to lift. Not only has he seen significant strength gains, but he also continued to lose his unwanted body fat in the process.”
Simon said Zalas comes to the gym at least five days a week and takes time to strength train.
“He’s well aware that he now needs to maintain what he has worked so hard to build,” Simon said.
Zalas said when someone starts lifting weights at age 69, it’s best to start with smaller weight loads and a modest number of reps.
“An older body needs time to adjust to resistance training,” he said. “The important thing is that you just stay with the program, keep going and keep moving. Add a little more weight and a few more reps each week and amazing things happen.”
At first, Zalas didn’t imagine lifting 13 million pounds in a year.
“I love data and track everything,” he said. “Reviewing my numbers after three or four months into my program, I said, ‘Let’s go for it and see how much weight I can move.’ I shared my weight-training goals with my brother, Terry, and several close friends. I didn’t want to fail, so sharing my goals with others helped motivate me to stay on course, on target. It worked.”
For Eric Zalas, one of the primary benefits of weight training in a gym is having the opportunity to meet others.
“Lifetime Fitness is like a social club for me,” he said. “I have literally met hundreds of incredible, fascinating people there in just a few years. Meeting interesting people, having fun and getting strong and healthy, that’s the real payoff of strength training for me.
“I feel really good about the way I look and feel. I’m working at being my best self and having fun doing it.”