Have a purpose — Number one (and the most important) is to have a purpose that is meaningful to you and gets you out of bed every day. This doesn’t necessarily mean something with a huge impact. For many people who live a long life, their purpose is simple: tending to a garden or taking care of their home. Once again, this purpose must be meaningful to you to be effective.
The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing TJ Mentus.
TJ Mentus has spent over seven years as a personal trainer working with people of all different populations to help improve their health and quality of life. He first became certified through ACE, and then received his USAW Level 1, FRC Mobility Specialist, and Paul Chek HLC 1 certification. Outside of training others, he takes his own training routine seriously and competes in local CrossFit competitions and weightlifting meets for fun.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
As a kid, I always loved sports and competing, but I was not a very good athlete. This led me to fall in love with lifting weights, where I knew I could at least outwork those better than me on the field. My love of working out followed me into college, where I studied psychology but had no plans on how to use that degree after graduation. During my last year of school, I realized that the only thing I wanted to do was be in the gym and that I could use this passion to help others improve their lives.
I got certified as a personal trainer during my last semester of college and then immediately began training others. I’ve worked in a few well-known gym chains that have allowed me to train with many great people and get experience solving various health and fitness issues for my diverse set of clients. The start of the pandemic allowed me to begin working for myself instead of a commercial gym, and I’ve been doing that since and loving it. My general goal for my clients is to get them to a place where they can move better and be as pain-free as possible. I believe that everyone, regardless of where they are starting, can benefit from strength training and mobility work to create a more resilient and better functioning body.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I think people underestimate how much of a role mindset plays in one’s health and success. One time, I worked with an excellent teenage lacrosse player who was recovering from a broken leg. His parents had brought him to me because his leg had stopped progressing, and he was still having trouble running when this should have been no issue at this point in his recovery. Physically, he was obviously not doing well, and mentally he was even worse, lacking motivation and feeling like he had lost everything. The start of the lacrosse season was looming, and he had given up on himself. This was a kid that loved to work out and was an incredible athlete before his injury, and now he was completely defeated.
After talking with him, I had an unorthodox idea of how to get him back on track. Most trainers and coaches would have tried some other type of rehab therapy or new technique, which might have worked well for him, but my gut told me to try something different. I wanted him to feel what it was like to work hard again and to reignite that passion inside of him.
To start, I had him work up to a deadlift weight that started to get challenging with the more reps we added. I pushed him to do just a little more than he was comfortable with and much more than he had done up to this point. By the end of the workout, he was a completely different person than the kid I was talking to earlier. Even though he was now tired, sweaty, and out of breath, there was a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before. He was reminded of what it felt like to work hard and see what his body could accomplish. We ended up working together for a couple of months, and over the course of this time, he gradually progressed and got his strength and driven mindset back.
Eventually, I lost contact with him because his parents could no longer afford training, and I didn’t see him around the gym much. However, about a year later, he came up to me and told me how well he was doing and that he had earned a scholarship for lacrosse. He thanked me profusely for my help in getting him back on track. It was so inspiring to see him transform from the kid that I initially spoke with, who had no hope or belief in himself, to the confident young man who had overcome his struggle because he could believe in his abilities again.
This experience taught me so many life lessons. First, to trust my instincts even if they go against the norm. If I had handled that first session like I was taught to handle cases like his, I’m not sure if I would ever have had the same impact on him. The second thing I learned is that when people believe in themselves, there’s no limit on what they can do. However, they’re going nowhere fast if they don’t believe. Building that belief doesn’t come just from telling yourself affirmations, but by taking repeated action and showing up even when you’re not initially confident.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had many people who have helped me through different challenging seasons in my life to get to where I am now. Because of this, it’s hard to single out just one person. The story I’ll share is from a day when another trainer helped me drastically change my belief in myself. We were working out next to each other in the squat rack of the gym we both worked at, and I was doing front squats, which I was not very confident in at the time. The other trainer was someone I looked up to as a “big brother” figure. After a set that felt tough and like my form was not great, I asked him how they looked, and he said, “It looks good. Go up,” so I added more weight even though I was unsure of myself. This continued for maybe 4 or 5 more sets until I finally failed a set. Because of that trainer’s encouragement, I ended up going about 40 lbs. higher on those squats than I originally planned. That moment showed me that I still have more strength (literally and figuratively) than I think. I’m grateful for that trainer’s encouragement that day because it became a catalyst for moving forward, pushing myself past what I thought was possible, and developing more confidence in myself than ever before.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first trait that has helped me be successful is being persistent. When I became a trainer, I never gave myself another option or plan b in case it didn’t work out. There were times when it was difficult to make ends meet and more than once when I had to build my business up from nothing, but my persistence carried me through those hard times. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, so it gave me no choice but to continue until I was successful.
The next trait is being inquisitive. My whole life, I’ve always asked many questions and wondered why things are the way they are. In regard to fitness, this has helped me try and learn as much as possible about the body, how it works, and what it can do. It also helps me when trying to get to know my clients and understand the issues they are dealing with so that I can figure out how to best help them.
The last trait is having a growth mindset. This means believing you can use struggles and obstacles to improve your skills and abilities. This trait has made me want to become the best version of myself. Even if I don’t understand a subject right away or don’t have the right skill set to solve a problem, I know that I can work and develop myself to improve upon my current limitations.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Being fit and healthy is not something that came easily to me. I am the only person in my family that I would consider to be in good physical health, meaning I am in the upper percentile of physical fitness, I don’t take any medication regularly for health issues, and I eat a balanced diet that supports my daily needs. I have had to work hard to develop the discipline and habits to support my health because they were not taught to me growing up, and I do not possess many genetic advantages over anyone else. This has given me a unique perspective and shown me that health and wellness are not always a given, but they can be worked on and improved regardless of your starting point. I have carried this belief into my work with clients and use it to show them how they can improve their health even if they weren’t gifted with superior genetics or weren’t taught healthy habits growing up.
Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.
I haven’t embarked on any mythical quests (that I can remember) along my health and wellness journey. However, I think the interesting paths I have discovered have usually resulted from the injury and recovery process. Every time I have been hurt, it has opened an opportunity to learn even more about how the body works and how to make it stronger. I’ve then been able to pass that knowledge along to my clients and help them more effectively.
A couple of years ago, I threw out my back while working out, and it was excruciating to even move. It was by far the worst injury I’ve had. To rehab it, I had to learn what deficiencies I had that caused the injury and how to fix them. Since then, I have looked at back pain and injuries differently than before and can see how the whole body works together to move and function rather than an injury only affecting one area or muscle group.
Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)
- Have a purpose — Number one (and the most important) is to have a purpose that is meaningful to you and gets you out of bed every day. This doesn’t necessarily mean something with a huge impact. For many people who live a long life, their purpose is simple: tending to a garden or taking care of their home. Once again, this purpose must be meaningful to you to be effective.
- Have a healthy, consistent diet. — Second, a healthy, consistent diet is key to achieving the goal of a long and healthy life. There are always the stories of those that can drink soda or beer every day and live to be100, but those people are outliers. A healthy diet provides one with the energy they need to do all the things they need and want to do and keeps them at a healthy weight.
- Engage in physical activity — Third, a person who wants to achieve this goal should engage in physical activity that they enjoy regularly. Exercise has been proven again and again to improve not only physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. I cannot emphasize the benefits of physical activity enough!
- Find a community — Fourth, which may be even more important than diet and activity, is finding a community to participate in actively. Community helps provide individuals with purpose and human connection, two vital factors contributing to our health. I don’t believe we have even begun to fully grasp the importance of these factors and how they influence our well-being.
- Growth mindset — Lastly, having a growth mindset is of utmost importance. A growth mindset means believing you can improve yourself and circumstances through effort, education, etc. This mindset will help someone overcome big and small challenges they will experience throughout their life. The more challenges we can overcome, the more resilient and self-sufficient we can be.
Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?
Building loving relationships with others significant to you is one of the most critical components of having a life of joy and meaning. Giving and receiving love in healthy, mutually beneficial relationships will have a tremendously positive effect on one’s life as a whole. I think you do this by finding people you can trust and be vulnerable with, people who accept you as you are and encourage you to be your best.
Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?
Genetics will always play a role in health and may give some an advantage or head start, but I believe that the habits a person practices over long periods are the most important for longevity. Very few people, maybe less than 1%, have genetics great enough that will overcome bad eating and lifestyle habits. For most people, as studies show, eating a diet full of nutrient deficient and processed foods with low activity levels will lead to chronic disease and shorter life expectancy. Diet and the amount and quality of physical activity are both factors within someone’s control. What gets in the way is people underestimating the damage their unhealthy behaviors are causing long-term and overvaluing the amount of pleasure these behaviors bring in the short term. You can either sacrifice a little now for more long-term benefits, or gain more fleeting pleasure now to sacrifice a lot later when your body ages faster and is more likely to be susceptible to disease and more dependent on others as a result of your poor choices.
Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?
Every time I have a setback, I try to remind myself that it is a learning opportunity and to apply the lessons I learned moving forward. It’s essential not to get too caught up in the moment and look at the situation from a long-term perspective. The setback may make things more difficult in the short term, but you will be smarter and better off in the long term. Keeping this in mind helps when moving forward. I also try to make decisions that will benefit my future self rather than my present self. When I do this, I find that I get to where I want to go quicker and feel more fulfilled with the outcomes of my decisions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is the Teddy Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” quote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…”
The quote explains that the critics don’t matter but the one who is working towards a worthy goal, even if he fails repeatedly. There have been times when I became too concerned with what others think, which held me back from going after some goals and achievements that would have mattered to me greatly.
I heard this quote for the first time a few years ago when I had just started competing in CrossFit and weightlifting. No one else around me was doing what I was doing or training as aggressively as I was. Some would make comments, like saying I was doing too much and needed to slow down, even though I felt the best I ever had physically. This quote helped me to realize that their opinion of what I was doing didn’t matter because they weren’t in the arena with me. I was pursuing something meaningful and whether I failed or not wasn’t as important as the actual pursuit.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There are many things that I wish I would have been taught in school at a young age that I think would have a hugely positive effect on our society. One of these areas would be teaching children the importance of their words, use of language, and self-talk. Working with teens and children, I’ve noticed how often they can negatively talk about themselves or limit themselves with their words. For example, phrases like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough” are common in some of my training sessions. If they carry this type of talk, it will only lead to feelings of lacking self-worth and possibly not pursuing what is meaningful to them. That is something I wish I had learned earlier and would love to see implemented in the teaching of our youth.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
You can check out garagegymreviews.com to see more pieces I have written!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.