Mario Lopez’s career has undoubtedly been varied — hosting TV and radio programs, starring on Broadway and even writing a New York Times best-seller — but one thing that has remained constant since childhood is his active lifestyle. In fact, today he is arguably as fit, if not more fit, as when he landed his iconic role as A.C. Slater on the hit TV show Saved by the Bell in his teens.
“I think everyone should make their health their number one priority in life, because without that you really have nothing, and nothing else matters,” says Lopez.
An energetic lifestyle came naturally to this affable star. He was born into a working class family in San Diego — his mother worked for the phone company, and his father for the city. In an attempt to keep her lively son off the streets and away from a devious crowd, his mother kept him occupied.
“There was lots of potential for a hyper kid like myself to go in a bad direction, so her methods were to keep me busy and out of trouble, and it worked,” he recalls. “I was doing everything from karate to theater.”
Break a sweat every day
That desire to stay busy has lasted through the decades. No matter how demanding his schedule may be, Lopez’s fitness is never sacrificed.
“I don’t feel like I’ve really woken up until I break a sweat,” says Lopez. “It’s become such a part of my life that I just do it because if I didn’t, I’d almost feel wrong. I like to work out more for sanity than I do for vanity. It’s a stress reliever; it’s very therapeutic for me.”
This dedication to exercise is something that he’s devoted to sharing with the next generation. He currently serves as a Fitness Ambassador for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, an organization he credits for much of his own successes in life.
“I spent all my time at the Boys Club. I had great mentors, and it’s a great opportunity for other kids like myself to stay out of trouble,” says Lopez. “I’m happy to remain involved. I write programs for them and help them raise money to build more clubs. I love the affiliation.”
His passion for healthy youth is also exemplified in his own home. Lopez and his wife are parents to a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. Though young, both children are very involved in extracurricular activities.
“We’re constantly moving and being very physical. I think when it’s engrained at a young age and you make it fun, it’s easy to be consistent with it,” Lopez says. He is quick to encourage families to embrace exercise in their own, unique ways. Breaking a sweat is not limited to putting forth hours in a gym and doesn’t have to be taxing. “We’ll go out hiking or swimming, and we have dance parties.”
Three rules of eating
Eating healthy plays a large role in Lopez’s life, but he doesn’t believe in giving up flavor for the sake of fitness. “I’m a big foodie, and I love to eat. I grew up in a culture where food is prominent and featured. We celebrate with food, and we mourn with food,” shares Lopez. “As I got older, I didn’t want to substitute taste for all the good food that I was eating, so I came up with a few healthier, alternative versions.”
Lopez is the author of several popular books on nutritional health. His cookbook Extra Lean was featured on the New York Times’ best-seller list.
“I don’t believe in diets; I don’t believe that they work,” he says. “I think people work, and it’s a matter of lifestyle. I don’t deprive myself of any food, and I don’t think people should. I live by three basic rules:
- Try to have a healthy balance of fat, protein and carbs in every meal.
- Eat frequently throughout the day; try to avoid the big three square meals and just sort of graze all day.
- Practice portion control and eat in sensible sizes.”
Although Lopez juggles a busy schedule, dinnertime with his family is never compromised.
“I have a rule that there’s no cellphones, no TV; we might have a little music playing in the background, but other than that, we talk and we sit as a family and enjoy time together. No matter how busy I am, and I have a lot going on, I look forward to our dinner,” he says.
Mealtime in the Lopez house is an engaging affair, meant to involve the kids and spur their interest in healthy eating.
“Ask kids if they want things a certain way. Do they want to grill today or broil? The more you get them involved in the process of cooking, the more apt they are to try stuff,” Lopez explains.
Part of what makes Lopez’s nutrition habits relatable to the everyday family is the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He says he doesn’t count calories, and while he focuses on well-balanced nutrition Monday through Friday, he leaves the weekends to enjoy the occasional splurge — admitting his vices include pizza, loaded tacos and sweet snacks.
Ask this idol what the future looks like and he’ll tell you he has no plans to slow down. Lopez says he’s confident he will find ways to stay active by adjusting to what works for his body through life’s different phases.
“I don’t take healthy living for granted, and I want to continue living that way,” he says. “As I get older I will probably adapt to less strenuous activities, but I think exercise makes you feel young.”
He believes everyone should workout, unrestricted by age. It’s a matter of finding your individual motivations. For his own parents, he says getting a dog has inspired them to take long walks and be more active.
“I’m extremely grateful to be in the position I am now,” Lopez says. “My whole mantra is just to work hard and stay focused and do the right thing.”
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Enjoy this recipe from Mario Lopez’s cookbook, Extra Lean.
Spinach and sun dried tomato burger
Makes: 4 servings
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 2 Tbsp. chopped sun dried tomatoes, packed in oil (drained)
- 1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- 1 lb. ground turkey breast
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add sun dried tomatoes, spinach, salt and pepper, and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until spinach is just wilted. Set aside to cool.
- Once spinach mixture is cooled, combine it with turkey and mix with clean hands until combined — form into 4 burgers.
- Preheat a grill, grill pan or skillet and cook burgers for 6 to 7 minutes per side until cooked through.
Suggest serving with 1 oz. low-fat cheddar cheese and 1 cup of broccoli with lemon juice to complete the dinner.
Per serving: Calories 248, Protein 41g, Fat 4.5g, Sodium 655mg, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Fiber 5g, Carbs 10g
Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.