When Mike Jasper was growing up in the tiny town of Manchester, Iowa, fitness and nutrition were far from his mind. He played Little League baseball, but exercising for exercise’s sake wasn’t something he — or anyone else in his family — considered. “My dad owned a contracting business and kept active because of the demands of his job,” says Mike, now 45. “But back then, exercise wasn’t something people thought about doing.”
His diet was similarly limited. One of four growing kids, he ate the standard Midwestern fare of meat and potatoes, and, by his own admission, rarely let a vegetable pass his lips.
But despite his lax attitude toward diet and exercise in his teens and 20s, the effects didn’t catch up with him until he quit smoking in his mid-30s. The lanky, 6-foot-5 owner of carpet-cleaning and chemical businesses had never struggled with his weight, but he suddenly began adding pounds to his belly. “It snuck up on me,” he admits. “After a while, I looked like I was eight months pregnant.”
The extra weight took a toll on Mike’s body: He suffered frequent lower-back pain and muscle stiffness, threw his back out on more than one occasion, and was running low on energy. “It got to the point where I realized I didn’t want to keep moving in that direction.”
So he and his wife, Annette, joined the Life Time Fitness center near their home in Gilbert, Ariz., as soon as it opened in 2003. And at Annette’s suggestion, they both signed up for twice-weekly personal-training sessions. The decision was the first of many that would change Mike’s life — and that of his family — for the healthier.
A Guide to Success
Mike’s initial fitness assessment showed he had significant work to do to get healthy: He tipped the scale at 243 pounds — 41 percent of which was fat. “We had to start from ground zero. He was out of shape and had postural issues,” says Tyna LaBarre, his first personal trainer. “But he was 100 percent committed.”
To get started, LaBarre had Mike focus on total-body workouts that built his strength and cardiovascular abilities. He did squats with shoulder presses, lunges with biceps curls, and torso rotations with cables to strengthen his core. He also did short sessions on the elliptical machine or stair climber to build his aerobic capacity. “Even being on a low level on the stair climber killed me in the beginning,” he recalls. “I was begging for mercy.”
But Mike, who is goal-oriented by nature, appreciated having someone to guide his progress. “At first, I wanted to do my own routine,” he says, “but that was a big mistake, because I saw a difference as soon as I did what Tyna told me.”
Frequently changing the routine to keep Mike from getting bored, LaBarre says she sometimes had to rein in his enthusiasm to keep him from getting injured. “As he saw results, he became a classic overtrainer,” she says. “He’d come in the morning to do strength training, then come back at night to do an hour of cardio and play racquetball for a couple hours.” Over time, though, she says he found a good balance between exercise and rest.
As his strength and flexibility increased, Mike’s back pain all but disappeared. And when his kids — Cole, 9, and Max, 6 — wanted to see just how strong he had become, he delighted them by bench-pressing them both: one on each arm. “They think their daddy is Superman,” says Annette.
Honing In on Healthy Eating
Over the course of six months, Mike lost 20 pounds and 15 percent of his body fat, but he knew he could be doing even more to improve his health and quality of life. That’s when LaBarre suggested he change his eating habits. Mike loved sausage-and-egg biscuits for breakfast, ice cream and brownie desserts, and fast-food lunches — and he struggled with portion control. “I couldn’t just eat one cookie in the package,” he recalls. “I would eat an entire row.”
With the help of a nutritionist, Mike diligently began following a plan that recommended eating several small meals each day and avoiding extra fat and refined sugar.
Annette noticed the difference immediately. “He was pushing for brown rice, fish and chicken,” she says. “He even stopped drinking diet soda — and this is a guy who would drink three cases of soda a week!” She went further by replacing flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions and ice cream with yogurt.
Mike eventually overcame his distaste for vegetables, too, and began adding more salads, broccoli and sweet potatoes to his diet. It wasn’t easy, he recalls, but it made an impact. “I could feel the difference, especially in my workouts.”
Thanks to his improved diet and regular exercise, he gained lean muscle mass without putting on pounds, and now, nearly four years later, he maintains a healthy weight of 214 pounds and 18.8 percent body fat.
A Focus on Family
Mike’s transformation has affected his entire family: He now has more than enough energy to keep up with his growing boys, and they’re all making healthier food choices, thanks to a kitchen chock-full of healthy options.
“Our whole family is eating better as a result,” Annette says. “Our kids used to inhale cheese puffs, but now they reach for yogurt or apples and peanut butter. Instead of eating rows of cookies, they’re OK with sherbet or a smoothie. In fact, I’m often throwing out cookies because no one eats them.”
Cole and Max, who used to watch their dad wince at the sight of broccoli, see him piling veggies on his dinner plate. And along with keeping up their own schedule of healthy activity, shuttling between baseball, basketball and soccer practices, they happily tag along with Mike when he goes to the gym. “The boys want to do what their daddy does,” Annette says. “He’s their idol.”
As Mike continues to work on maintaining his weight and adding more lean muscle to his frame, he hopes his kids notice the decisions he makes and incorporate similar ones into their own lives.
“I think it’s totally to their advantage to get them started early,” he says. “I want to help get them on the healthy track that I never had growing up.