Strong at 81, One Man Credits Exercise for His Life

Here are the secrets of a retiree who pushed death away years ago — and hasn't stopped

When then-30-year-old Robert Gallant sat before his doctor years ago, he had no idea the advice he was about to receive would change the rest of his life.

With both his parents fighting adult-onset diabetes (Type 2), Gallant’s doctor told him he had two weapons to ward off an early death: a healthy weight and exercise.

Gallant bought a treadmill and began running the very next day.

His father and brother died in their 50s of complications from the disease — but Gallant is still going strong at 81.

“I knew, even if diabetes did come, it would be less severe if I was in shape and maybe it wouldn’t come at all,” he said in an interview from his home in Midland, Michigan. “I give exercise the credit for that. Absolutely.”

In many research studies, exercise has been proven to delay or lessen the onset of Type 2 diabetes, but that was not common knowledge 50 years ago.

Gallant plays volleyball three times a week, takes Zumba and other fitness classes, works with a personal trainer, and continues to run. He recently helped train teenagers for their first 5K race, after winning his division (70 years and older) in his own first 5K.

Transition to the community gym and expansion of his fitness program came at age 78 in 2013, after his wife of 53 years, Margie, died from complications of a stroke. Before that, he had been her primary caregiver for seven years after the stroke and had always exercised at home.

Losing the love of his life brought advice from his family: Get out of the house. In doing so, he found the Midland Community Center, which costs him about $300 per year.

“It was a lifesaver,” he said. “It’s still my main social center. I know a lot of people there. It can take me quite a while to get to my exercise class, because I have to say hello to everyone.”

Gallant believes exercise has had a positive effect on his mental acuity too, since he breathes so much oxygen while exercising, which circulates through the blood to the brain.

After 40 years as a technology manager at Dow Chemical, Gallant gave serious thought to retirement before taking the plunge in 1998. “I knew I didn’t want to sit on the couch and watch TV. I’d always had a dream of writing novels, so I said, ‘Why not?'”

Margie helped him with research and critical feedback.

“After she read my first draft of ‘Satan’s Stronghold’ [his first novel], she told me, ‘If you’re going to have a sophisticated female character, do not make her depend on a man. Make sure she has a crucial role in the outcome of the book.'”

He laughs at the fact that critics have loved his main female character, Chesney Barrett. He wrote a four-part series with her as heroine, then diverged for the thriller “Rob the Vatican.” He recently returned to his heroine for the book he is writing now.

Robert Gallant’s five tips to stay young:

1.) Exercise. This is no surprise as No. 1 on his list, given how it has impacted his life. “You have to exercise every day and you have to be relentless. There is no such thing as ‘Ah, I don’t feel like it today.'”

2.) Keep learning. Gallant researches every location for his novels, which keeps him mentally sharp. “I like to know more about a place than anyone reading my books.” For his book “Rob the Vatican,” he read more than 100 books about the Vatican and its treasures and security systems.

3.) Get out of your comfort zone. Gallant had never been in a gym before his sister-in-law urged him to exercise outside his home. Zumba classes were a strange new adventure, too. His writing endeavors brought him face-to-face with movie production representatives twice, where he pitched his books as potential movies. “Nothing may ever come of it,” he said. “But I learned.”

4.) Interact with others. Make each day nicer for the people around you. Connect with people; enjoy them.

5.) Have fun. Enough said! Gallant is enjoying life fully.

Daily motivation isn’t a problem for him.

“I wake up every morning and look to the left and notice I’m not in a grave,” he said with a chuckle.

“I look to the right and notice I’m not in a hospital bed. Then, I say, ‘This is going to be a great day!'”

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