Fit Happens!

Chris Zaremba was obese and heading towards an early grave. But now, at 58,  he is in the shape of his life and using his experience to help others

Human beings are creatures of habit. We like to do things our own way, eat the things we enjoy, and spend our evenings indulging our interests. While most habits are harmless, some can be quite sinister, especially when they become addictions that have the potential to cause harm. How long should you let something go before you break the habit of a lifetime?

For Chris Zaremba, such a moment came to him eight years ago, when a routine check-up with his GP ended with a dire warning: unless you make some changes to the way you are living you will soon be pushing up the daisies.

“When I got to 50, I was obese and weighed 18-stone with a body fat percentage of roughly 40-45%,” says Mr Zaremba. “My GP noticed that all of my health indicators were getting worse – my blood pressure and blood sugar were high, and my aerobic capacity was poor – I couldn’t even run 20 metres for a bus!”

Yet, while the doctor’s warning came as a wake-up call, it was an unexpected incident that pushed him into action.

“One of my hobbies is flying small planes, and in order to do so you need to have a medical each year. At 50, the medical becomes more stringent than ever before and is tougher on your blood pressure and sugar levels,” explains Mr Zaremba. “So, my aviation doctor turned around to me and said, ‘Sorry, Chris. You need to change your lifestyle before you can fly again’, and he took away my licence there and then.”

With the words of his doctor ringing in his ears, he decided it was time to make a change and set in motion a plan to get himself in shape. It was not going to be easy – since leaving school he had done very little exercise and was even known by name at his local takeaways. Yet, when he started his exercise program, something surprised him – he actually began to enjoy it.

“I thought I would hate it,” says Mr Zaremba. “I had not done any exercise for 30-odd years and figured I would hate going running and cycling, but one of the things I discovered is that I loved writing numbers down and comparing them,” he laughs. “So, I wrote down how much I weighed and seeing that number coming down became a real motivation.”

However, it was a chance encounter with personal trainer and fitness model, Rob Riches, which changed all that: “Rob told me I was doing a great job losing weight, but that I was only losing weight – not any fat. He measured my body fat levels and my percentage was pretty much the same as it was when I started, because I was losing weight on water and muscle.

“I was encouraged by Rich to move over to the weights room and start playing about with some dumbbells and start putting on some muscle.”

At this point he was still working in London selling computer software to banks, but his newfound passion for fitness took over his life and he wanted to pass on what he had learned to others in a similar situation: “I decided when I was 55 to resign from my job and concentrate full-time on fitness and to get my qualifications in personal training and nutrition, so I could help those going through the same thing I was.”

Fit Over Fifty

Fast forward a few years and Mr Zaremba is in the shape of his life and has embarked upon a new career as a personal trainer who specialises in helping those over 50-years of age (fitnessoverfifty.co.uk).

So, for those of you who are looking to get into shape, what will be the biggest challenge to overcome?

“The hardest thing, without a doubt, is making it enjoyable and something you want to do,” he says. “People always find an excuse not do something if they don’t want to.

“Another challenge is that there are only 24 hours in the day. Most people say they don’t have time to exercise – but they watch TV in the evenings! The average person in Britain watches four and a half hours of TV a day – you could easily cut that back and do some exercise instead,” he explains, before deadpanning: “Last time I watched Coronation Street, Annie Walker was still in the Rover’s Return.”

Mr Zaremba explains that making subtle changes to your lifestyle can also help you get fitter with next to no additional effort: “People should look for more opportunities to find ways to exercise in their daily lives. For example, instead of getting the lift, take the stairs and go up two steps at a time – that’s an opportunity for exercise right there.

“Make sure you walk up escalators, if you catch a bus get off a couple of stops earlier and walk. Plus, try to walk a bit brisker – you’ll burn more calories and have more time when you get there.”

If you want to lose weight, then you will need to get your nutrition in order – we know to cut back on fatty foods – but what should replace them? Mr Zaremba is an ardent supporter of increasing protein in your diet and cutting out crisps and chocolate, but he is quick to assure that you do not need to give up all of your favourite food: “Everyone wants a treat from time to time, so I recommend following my quality-not-quantity rule. If you want to have something that is bad for you, then have it in a reasonable quantity and make sure it is good quality – don’t eat crap!”

In his case he would save it for a good quality craft ale, but it can be anything you fancy, however the amount you have will only effect your end goals.

“Clients always ask how much of something they are allowed in a day, but there is no limit. Two is better than four, one is better than two, and none is better than one,” he explains. “It all depends how seriously you are taking your weight-loss goals. After all, it’s not rocket science, it’s rocket salad,” he quips.

Mr Zaremba’s life has changed for the better but he is now focused on improving the lives of those in a similar position.

“Barely a week goes by when I don’t get an email from someone telling me how I have influenced their life for the better,” he says, leaning back with a satisfied smile. “On a personal level it has brought me and my wife closer together. We love going running, cycling and hiking together, which I could never do in the past, as I didn’t have the fitness. I’ve been a slob most of my life but I turned it around and you can too.”

Josh Stephenson