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Eli Kahan

Illustration by Lea Kron

I picture a kid yelling, “My zaidy benches better than yours.” Sounds so holy and pure! But the zaidy we’re speaking of benches not just from a siddur, but he lifts 210 pounds. At the gym. After 30 minutes of cardio and a kickboxing class.

These are the goals of Eli Kahan, founder of Fit Zaidy — a program geared to making sure that this generation of 55-year-old-plus men live the next bunch of years to the fullest. With wisdom, humor, and a passion to help his contemporaries, he’s embarked on a mission to help other zaidies make the most of the time they have in the best years of their lives.

This is a Soundbites article, so tell us a bit about your food history.

It’s not a particularly healthy one. I’m happy with almost anything my wife makes, I never complain about food, and I tended to overeat whatever was served! When I’m at work, I’m also surrounded by food. I’ve been in wholesale food sales and management most of my life — first in Spanish food for Vitarroz Corp., then with Badia Spices, and now with Kayco. So I’ve never been out of arm’s reach of samples, tastings, and leftovers! Not a healthy combination for a grazer!

So you lived the life of free samples. How did that lay the groundwork for your current field?

I’ve spent most of my life yo-yo dieting, with very little success. Three years ago I hurt my back. In the course of my slow recovery through chiropractic and physical therapy, I researched assorted treatments and therapies. This led me into a deep dive of health, wellness, and aging. I couldn’t believe how much great information there was out there! And I knew nothing about it — and neither did most of my circle of friends of zaidies in their 60s! Nor was anyone talking about or experimenting with all these free or inexpensive ideas that are changing seniors’ lives for the better.

So I became that person, learning and sharing information on nutrition, exercise, and sleep — for seniors and anyone else who will listen to me! My family would say, “Enough talk about protein, muscle building, sleep, olive oil, and walnuts! We don’t want to hear about added sugars and body-weight exercises!”

When did your information become public domain?

As I lost weight, got in shape, and started feeling decades younger, l felt I had to get this hopeful and opportune message out. Hence, the launch of the Fit Zaidy Project. We want to help 1,000 zaidies get 10 percent better!

How long we live is predetermined by Hashem. How well we live or age is often determined by us. Hashem gives us our greatest necessities for free — air, water, sunlight! Most of the zaidies I talk to have zero nutritional plan and zero exercise plan. This is the opposite of everything we now know about aging!

We plan our finances, our vacations, and our retirements. Why not plan (or put hishtadlus into) the nutritional and energy requirements that fuel the quality of lives?

What is your plan?

When people ask for the best diet or exercise I say, “The one you’ll stick with!”

But in general, I teach the simplest and most universally accepted three tracks. I’ll explain it with a metaphor. If you soak a towel in water and give it a good squeeze, you’ll release a lot of water. Another two squeezes will do the same. After that, it’s just small drops coming out.

The same is true for us zaidies. Our first “squeeze” is eating. Knowing what and when to eat and what and when not to eat — for example, eating more protein, or not consuming calories three hours before bed, and how important it is to lower our sugar and carb intake.

Our second “squeeze” is movement and exercise. I encourage anyone who can to walk half an hour a day. Start there!

Our third “squeeze” is better quality and earlier sleep. We burn the candle at both ends, and not letting the body rejuvenate is killing us.

What feedback have you gotten so far?

Universal acceptance and acknowledgment that we’re woefully unprepared, physically, for life after 60. People tell me, “Our lives have been very busy. Now we’re unfit, overweight, and full of aches and pains — it’s too late to start.”

I don’t blame them. We’ve spent so many years raising families, working, saving for retirement. It’s been a rat race. Now that things have slowed down, we don’t have the energy we used to have. But giving up is a mistake. As soon as you start, you’ll see changes.

I tell people, you won’t believe the changes after a month. After two to three months, you’ll call and thank me! About 60 percent of the people I’ve coached have continued some aspect of the program.

Looking at the three tracks of nutrition, exercise, and sleep, which steps do you think are the easiest to start with and will have the most immediate results?

First, a disclaimer: I’m not certified as a nutritionist or as a fitness coach. What I’m trained in is interpersonal coaching, since Mordy Herzog from Kayco felt that this would help me get my message across.

Kayco has been totally supportive of this chesed project. Mordy and Chaim Herzog have encouraged me from the beginning! In fact, before I started, Mordy told me, “You find the course and we’ll pay for it!” That’s how I learned how to redesign Fit Zaidy to be fun, simple, and available even to absolute beginners.

I will say that the following steps have had the least resistance and shown real results for my clients. First of all, not eating after eight at night is a game-changer. Walking for 30 minutes a day and not going back for doubles are also super important. And remember, anything is 100 percent more than nothing.

Eli in 60 seconds

Grew up in East Flatbush, then moved to Monsey.

Married to Mimi Fischman, originally from Elizabeth, New Jersey. She’s known as the maintenance or “tractor lady” for Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha.

Lives in Flatbush.

Six kids, four married and living in Flatbush, Monsey, and Pomona.

Favorite tool: exercise equipment. I find hand weights and cables are the most economical.

Exercises you can do while sitting near your desk: Using body weight, you can do push-ups, squats, planks, sit-ups, and even jumping jacks!

The three best portable snacks that are under 150 calories: An apple or a pear, a handful of almonds and/or walnuts, or 3 Persian cucumbers.

Best question ever heard from a beginner: Is kishka a protein?


(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 856)

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