The IRONMAN at 75March 2017
By Jon Van Zile
Dr. Robert Willix is the kind of guy who describes training for the IRONMAN triathlon in the brutal South Florida sun as “so much fun”—and this isn’t even the most surprising thing about his bid to compete in his second IRONMAN.
At 75 years old, Dr. Willix is pushing himself to the physical and mental limit to qualify for one of the hardest, most competitive athletic events in the world. He completed his first IRONMAN forty years ago and says he always thought it would be good to go back to Hawaii, where the renowned triathlon was founded in 1978.
“Finishing an IRONMAN is a life-changing event. Once you do it, it’s in your blood. I wanted to see if I could do it again. Would my body hold up? Would I get injured? Could I actually do it?”
An Operating-Table Epiphany
Dr. Willix’s road to the IRONMAN began long before he landed in Hawaii decades ago.
“When I was 35, I was operating on a 34-year-old and I had this sudden vision that he could have been me,” Willix said. “He was overweight. I was overweight. He had a high-stress job. I had a high-stress job.”
Hoping to change his life, Dr. Willix quit heart surgery, became a vegan, and began training for marathons and triathlons. He completed his first IRONMAN in 1984 at the age of 44. Back then, the IRONMAN was still relatively new, but it was no less grueling than it is today. Competitors swim 2.4 miles in the open ocean, compete in a 112-mile bike race, and run a full 26.2 mile marathon, all on the same day.
Unfortunately, Dr. Willix’s career in endurance sports ended only a year later, when he was involved in a serious car accident while training for another triathlon. After that, “life happened” as Dr. Willix built his career in medicine, later opening the Enlightened Medicine Clinic in Boca Raton, Florida. But he never lost his competitive fire—and never allowed his own conditioning and health to deteriorate.
Today, as he contemplates going back to Hawaii, he’s facing a very different challenge. Athletes have to compete in qualifying events to get an invitation, which means Dr. Willix will first have to clear the competitive field in his age group in a November qualifying triathlon. And with his son as his coach (also an endurance athlete), Dr. Willix is adjusting to a different kind of training regimen.
Dr. Willix’s Training and Supplement Regimen
Since his first IRONMAN, training has dramatically changed. In the old days, training for a triathlon was all about logging distance. You swam a few miles, ran 40 miles a week, biked a few hundred miles—the distance was the goal.
Today, Dr. Willix says training is much more complex and strategic.
“Where we used to aim for distance, now we aim for intensity, in part because most of us have jobs. I don’t have four hours a day to train, so I train for two hours a day, doing things like interval training, wind sprints. You aim for peak intensity.”
While the training has taken a toll on him—he suffered a partially separated shoulder earlier this year when he fell off his bike and then rode 14 miles home—he says the training is its own reward.
“You feel great when you’re physically fit. That’s true at 40, 60, 70, or 90. I feel great right now. It’s more mental than physical.”
To support this rigorous training program, Dr. Willix has designed comprehensive and highly personalized supplements for himself.
“Because I’m training, I have more inflammation. I’m concentrating on vegan supplements that reduce inflammation, like clary sage oil, turmeric, and curcumin. I also take coenzyme Q10.”
The foundation of his supplement program is a multivitamin he designed himself and has micro-encapsulized at an overseas supplier.
“The multivitamin is a base of what you do,” he explains. “When it comes to a good multi, you really have to look at several things. Is there enough vitamin B? If not, add an additional vitamin B complex. Is there enough vitamin A? A multivitamin is when you really should be looking at what’s next in your life and what’s important at your age.”
Because most people don’t have the expertise to formulate their own supplements, Dr. Willix recommends the Life Extension® multivitamins, including the Two-Per-Day and Life Extension Mix™.
To boost his athletic performance, Dr. Willix also takes protein powders mixed into “green” drinks and is considering adding amino acids to support muscle recovery and building.
He recommends that adults get a vitamin D test and supplement with vitamin D to bring levels up to a safer blood concentration. “We know that most people are deficient in vitamin D,” he says.
For men, Dr. Willix is also a believer in supplements that reduce benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), including saw palmetto and pygeum, plus indole-3-carbinol or I3C to naturally support healthy testosterone levels.
When it comes to testosterone, Dr. Willix believes the best option for aging men is to “make it themselves whenever possible.” This might include testosterone-boosting herbs and regular exercise.
“They used to say you only needed to exercise three days a week, but now we’re finding it’s more like five days a week. The good news is that you don’t have to exercise for very long to get the benefits. Thirty minutes a day is plenty, but it’s so important.”
Ideally, men over 40 should start having regular tests for total testosterone, free testosterone, estradiol, luteinizing hormone, DHT, and sex-hormone binding globulin tests. If tests reveal a testosterone deficiency, they should take action to correct it.
“I think there’s pretty good evidence that males starting around age 30 begin to lose testosterone,” he said. “Normal testosterone levels should be where they were at when you were in your twenties.”
If exercise and supplementation doesn’t work to adequately raise testosterone levels, Dr. Willix recommends testosterone supplementation. In fact, testosterone supplementation is an important part of his personal health program.
“There’s strong evidence that bioidentical testosterone will preserve muscle mass and vigor,” he says. “And for men who are worried about prostate cancer, there’s absolutely no evidence that testosterone supplementation has anything to do with prostate cancer. That’s a myth that’s been in medicine for years and it’s dead wrong.”
Why Doctors Shouldn’t Look for “Disease”
No matter what happens at his qualifying race, Dr. Willix is still an inspiring example of what’s possible—and this is no accident. Dr. Willix believes that doctors should be the ultimate role models for health, and he relies on his own comprehensive approach to keep him in top shape. This includes physical fitness, nutrition, supplementation, hormone replacement therapy, stress control, and spirituality.
“I believe that physicians have to become the model for their patients. I live the lifestyle I want my patients to live.”
In many cases, this begins with education and helping patients understand how the environment affects their health. As an example, Dr. Willix points to the dangerous ingredients and synthetic hormones that pollute our food supply, not to mention the alarming lack of physical activity most people get and the many stresses of modern life.
“There are so many toxic things going on in the environment that we didn’t have 100 years ago,” he says.
The rampant use of hormones in agriculture and industry poses a special challenge. In his own practice, Dr. Willix has observed that 40-year-old men often have lower testosterone levels than men in their 60s and believes it’s due to the heavy use of hormones in meat and dairy farming that began in recent decades.
Overall, he believes good health is achieved through balance—eating a healthy diet of wholesome food, getting adequate daily exercise, reducing stress, maintaining a youthful hormone profile, having a strong spiritual connection, and visiting your doctor so you can keep track of your true measures of health.
“I’ve been teaching fitness, exercise, and nutrition since I left heart surgery,” he says. “It’s hard to motivate people. But if you can show them that they can get their energy back and bring their inner athlete back out, that’s a great motivation. People are almost always ready to change.”
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
For more information about Dr. Willix and Enlightened Living Medicine, please visit http://elmedicine.com/