Peter Donahue has been referred to as “the great disappearing man.” The Highland Park resident admits that he is not the fellow he once was. The new version of his former self is leaner, healthier and, not incidentally, happier.

Donahue, 65, was a finalist in the 60-Day Challenge conducted last fall by LifeTime Fitness. He competed against thousands of people from across the nation who were all striving to make significant improvements in their health and physical fitness. Though Donahue did not win the competition, he lost more than 20 pounds, normalized his blood pressure, reduced his resting heart rate and dropped 10 percentage points on the body fat index.
 
Peter Donahue
Peter Donahue maintains a regimen of five workouts a week—sessions of aerobic exercise and strength training at the Lifetime Fitness center in Highland Village that are challenging but not crazy, he said. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“I really didn’t think it was possible, at least not at first,” Donahue said. “For the last 20 years, long dog walks were my claim to fitness fame.”

The death of his best friend a little over two years ago gave Donahue “a jolt of mortality,” he said. When his doctor suggested he was headed in the same direction, he resolved to do something about it.

The death of his best friend a little over two years ago gave Donahue “a jolt of mortality,” he said. When his doctor suggested he was headed in the same direction, he resolved to do something about it.

As a younger man, Donahue had participated in competitive runs, games of squash and sailing. However, a busy career in molecular biology pushed those activities to the side. Two years ago, he joined LifeTime with two goals in mind—to lose weight and feel healthier.

At the LifeTime Fitness center in Highland Village, Donahue worked with personal trainer Destiny Zynda, who encouraged him to exercise and adopt a sensible diet. “Her idea of a sensible diet and mine were drastically different,” he said. And though regular exercise made him feel more fit, his plan came to a screeching halt when the pandemic hit and gyms were forced to close.

Donahue takes the 60-Day Challenge

Last June Donahue returned to LifeTime with the same concerns he had 18 months earlier. Destiny was waiting for him. She suggested quite emphatically that he enroll in the 60-Day Challenge.

Donahue was not thrilled by the idea. But he was planning to take part in a 300-mile bike ride later this year, so he agreed. He started working out in two of LifeTime’s small-group training programs—GTX and the more strenuous Alpha. Both programs promote strength, flexibility and endurance. At the group sessions, “you’re expected to show up,” Donahue said, and that provided all the motivation he needed. And if by chance he could not make it, he took part in the virtual workouts that LifeTime offers online.

He then set about making sense of the 60-Day Challenge meal plan. With his background in science, Donahue was familiar with biochemistry and physiology, but it still took him a while to figure out the pluses and minuses of such ingredients as coconut aminos and soy sauce, respectively. He also learned that the body responds to refined sugar and processed flour as it would toxins.

Donahue’s new diet focused on proteins, unsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates. He learned to love roasted vegetables and any dish with ground turkey. After a particularly grueling workout, he rewarded himself with a Very Berry Smoothie from the LifeTime Cafe.

Track your progress and have a finish line

As he became healthier, happier and leaner, Donahue made several discoveries. First, he said, “a skilled trainer is essential to understanding the interplay of exercise, diet and mentality, especially motivation.” He gives great credit to Zynda. “It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten fit without Destiny,” he said. “It’s that I wouldn’t have tried.”

“I’m beyond proud of Peter’s results,” Zynda said. “He applied everything given to him throughout the 60 days and impressed us with his perseverance and results. He has already inspired other LifeTime members to fully commit to getting to where they want to be.”

Donahue said it is important to “have a finish line and track your progress” if you want to get fit. He learned that “exercise without hydration, smart eating and good sleep won’t get you to the finish line.”

Workouts that are challenging but not crazy

Since the 60-Day Challenge ended, Donahue has continued a routine of five indoor workouts a week. He combines spin cycling, dancing on the bike and off-bike strength training with outdoor biking and hiking. Since flexibility and balance become increasingly important with age, he also practices what he calls “a humorously uncoordinated attempt at yoga.”

His workouts are challenging but not crazy, he said, and he now walks rather than drives on his regular errands in the neighborhood. “Increasing daily movement just feels good,” he said.

However, Donahue did not deny himself the fun of social events and the pleasures of food and drink that were not part of his fitness plan. “My love of good wine hasn’t abated a bit,” he said. However, he no longer feels the need to overload on goodies.

“The hardest part was silencing that internal voice that says, ‘you don’t really need to work out today,’” he added.

With his doctor’s OK, Donahue has been able to quit taking his blood pressure medication and he now feels ready for the planned Yellowstone to Winter Park bicycle ride and a hiking trip in Italy this year.

“I want to serve as an example for my age group,” Donahue said. “That it can be done, and it’s not so hard.”

— Janet Lunder Hanafin

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