Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Aug 2002

Real Life Role Model

John Abdo's metamorphosis into Olympic trainer, life motivator and radio and television personality, could be traced back to 1982, when a cracked vertebra finally caught up with him.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021. Written By Twig Mowatt.


John Abdo’s metamorphosis into Olympic trainer, life motivator and radio and television personality, could be traced back to 1982, the year that a cracked vertebra in his lower back finally caught up with him, leaving him 50 pounds overweight, chronically fatigued and depressed. In addition, he had been forced to sell off most of his possessions, including his car and home, to make payments toward his $100,000 debts. He worked hard then to heal himself, strengthening his muscles and energizing his central nervous system through a variety of specialized activities, most of which he invented himself.

John studied and consulted with many others who faced similar challenges and he sought help from spiritual mentors. His faith ultimately led him toward a vision of a work-out machine that would not only help him, but would also benefit millions of people with lower back problems. The result was the AB-Doer, designed to ensure a complete midsection workout which, in turn, provides the greatest support possible for the spinal column when exercising. Today, more than 2.5 million homes include the AB-Doer, which became commercially available in 1999.

Combining a healthy mental and physical lifestyle and attitude with his own unique eating plan, John dropped the excess weight and dramatically improved his energy and outlook. The change was so powerful that he began dedicating himself to sharing his experiences with others in need of physical and emotional change.

“My lessons have taught me what to do and what not to do, and now I can share that with others to help them achieve their own goals,” he said recently from his office at JA Fitness, the company he founded in Marina Del Rey, California. “And the good news is that change is easier than you think. The only real struggle is with what’s between our ears—our own negative attitudes.”

To ensure that John is giving people the best advice possible, he often relies on Life Extension Foundation for leading-edge thinking and reliable research. “Life Extension Foundation has been my top advisory council,” he says. “Every time I write a book or an article, you can bet there is something in there that I got from Life Extension. It’s a phenomenal source of information.”

But what he most admires about The Foundation is that those who run the company “walk the talk.” As a frequent attendee at health seminars and trade shows, John sees many people who preach health and longevity, but only as long as it fits into their business plan. “I see these people who are supposed to believe in health, but actually sit around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes,” he says. “For them, promoting health is just a way to make money.” Life Extension’s personnel, on the other hand, practice what they preach. For this reason John has looked to Life Extension over the years, on his road to success.

Image with Caption
John Abdo understands how to
design a balanced and healthy
eating plan.

Health starts on the inside, as John well knows. Through Life Extension, John has had several comprehensive blood work-ups done as a way to gauge what’s going on internally. He sees this kind of exam, which points out deficiencies, as a better gauge of wellness than other tests that look at body measurements, blood pressure or a run on the treadmill to test the heart. Besides, John’s results are usually extraordinary. The last test showed that his biochemical make-up is the same as that of a teenager, findings that confirmed to him that he’s on the right track with his health plan.

Having confidence is a large part of John’s approach to health—and life. Overcoming negative thoughts is the core theme in his lectures, consulting work, exercise tapes, television appearances and radio commentary. “We can do all the exercise in the world, but if we have bad thought patterns and aren’t optimistic, even our healthy looking bodies won’t be healthy,” he says.

The psychological component to health is often under-appreciated as people force themselves to do what they think is right for their bodies, without truly enjoying the journey. “Every thought has a physiological effect on the body,” he explains. “So if you exercise when you don’t really want to, you’re actually sending negative signals to the trillions of cells in the body.” In John’s three-pronged approach to life enhancement, the mind is the headquarters, calling the shots for the other two key pillars—the neurological and the physiological systems.

By neurological, John means training the central nervous system, as he did during his back injury, to keep energy flowing throughout the body to stimulate strong and healthy tissues. He likens neurology to the body’s electrical system, responsible for channeling energy to every cell. Yoga, light aerobics and stretching exercises all support healthy central nervous functions by removing barriers to the circulation of nerve energy.

The physiological, or muscle system, is perhaps the most widely accepted element to overall fitness. John advocates variety in his exercise regime. He looks for a combination of aerobic work for cardiovascular health, and the elimination of toxins and muscle toning for muscular strength and to ignite a fat burning metabolism. His new tape series, “Vital Living from the Inside-Out!” includes a seven-minute “no excuses” workout routine that addresses both aerobic and anaerobic needs in a way that accommodates any schedule and fitness level.

An approach to health that includes equal parts neurology, physiology and psychology works like this: “Think of the body as a lamp,” John explains. “The light bulb represents your muscle and the nervous system acts as the wire that connects the bulb to the electrical outlet. But what you still need is the light switch—and that’s your brain or your attitude—to turn the whole thing on. You have to have all three elements to work in harmony.”

John is a good role model for how this should work. At 47, 5’9” and 170 pounds, John’s body fat is just 6% of his overall weight. (Normal body fat for a man John’s age is 19%.) Despite his impressive physique he follows the advice that he gives people on his worldwide fitness lecture tours—“Don’t push yourself so hard that you grind your teeth during a workout.” In other words, don’t overdo it. “Fitness and diet can become obsessive,” he says. “You don’t want to be excessive in either one. You don’t have to weight train everyday or run everyday.”

And you certainly don’t have to diet. “To me, diets don’t work,” he says. “They fail, not because they don’t include healthy food, but because they are based on a ‘have-to’ rather than a ‘want-to’ attitude, and they are too restrictive. People need to have variety—and they can—while still realizing remarkable results.”

Incorporating that “want-to” attitude means striving for balanced sensible nutrition without the sense of restriction and looming failure that typically accompanies the latest diet fad. To create a sense of enjoyment, John strives for food configurations that emphasize variety, taste and appearance. He typically divides his dinner plate into thirds. One third is devoted to protein, such as eggs, fish, chicken or lean red meat. The second third is for fibrous carbohydrates like asparagus, lettuce and broccoli. And the final third is allocated to potatoes, rice, beans and other members of the starchy carbohydrate family. Those three elements ensure that the body’s basic cellular needs are met. “Don’t worry about counting calories or grams or weighing foods,” he advises. “Just eat equal portions of these three food categories and you’ll be amazed at the results.”

As for simple carbohydrates, such as fruits, flavored yogurt and sherbet, John recommends that people with excess weight issues or insulin problems avoid them or consume them only in the first four to six hours of the day. Simple carbs, when eaten alone, will “kick your pancreas into over-drive.” Fruit can make you fat, unless you are exercising properly. To avoid rapid rises in insulin you should consume simple carbs in combination with other food sources to slow the entry of glucose into the bloodstream. There is an exception though. Since exercise typically depletes blood sugar levels and muscle glycogen, you can eat fruits right before and immediately after a resistance workout because glucose will then be diverted right into the muscles and liver, rather than be converted to stored fat.


John is also a proponent of supplements, dedicating an entire kitchen cabinet to his collection. He recommends a few staples including an antioxidant to ensure protection from free radical damage and many hormonal precursors to maintain a healthy endocrine system. He likes to have something on hand to burn fat also and favors L-carnitine, which keeps fat active in the bloodstream (rather than earmarking it for storage) until it can be burned off during exercise. L-carnitine does for fat what chromium and alpha lipoic acid do for sugar. “These substances move energy through our system in much the same way that a car’s fuel pump shuttles gasoline from the tank into the engine,” he explains. The one caveat though—you have to be sure and operate the engine. “None of this works if you’re going to sit in front of the TV,” he says. “But a few minutes of exercise three or four times a week will do the trick and add years and quality to your life in the process.”


Logging too much time in front of the tube doesn’t happen to be an issue for John. When he does have a free moment away from his fitness empire, he likes to escape to the California mountains to rock climb and enjoy nature. But his favorite pastime is listening to the stories of people around the world who have taken his advice and changed their lives. One woman, for instance, recently told him that she lost 50 pounds on his program and is now getting along better with her husband and can finally play with her kids, rather than having to watch the fun from the couch. “That’s my real reward,” he says. “To know that I’ve been able to inspire someone to become healthier, happier and more successful is such a joy!”