By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Papa Joe Aviance eats healthy, walks and hopes to run a marathon one day.
You’d never guess that just seven years ago he hated exercise and was more than twice the size he is today.
Papa Joe, now in his 40s, struggled with his weight since he was a chubby child. By the time the Michigan native made his way to Los Angeles to pursue an acting and music career, he weighed 475 pounds.
Papa Joe and the singer Lula recorded a cover of Indeep’s 1982 hit “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life.” The cover reached No. 6 on the Billboard Magazine Dance Chart in 2009. Papa Joe also starred in the music video, but he didn’t like what he saw.
That’s when he decided he needed to act. He lost 200 pounds in 18 months by changing his lifestyle.
“I was fortunate that I had my wake-up call in time,” Papa Joe said. “I was two cheeseburgers away from a heart attack.”
He’s not kidding. Nearly everyone in his family has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. His grandfather died of heart disease.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death among Americans, and the risk is higher for blacks. Papa Joe’s obesity and family history increased his risk of heart disease and stroke.
He couldn’t afford a gym membership, surgery or pricey diet plans, so he started walking every morning. At first, he could walk only one block in his Hollywood neighborhood, but he gradually built up to 5 miles a day. Now he also runs, bikes and hikes.
“He became a staple in the Hollywood area,” said friend Jason Deparis, a development producer for television. “I’d always see him walking a few times a day randomly driving my car. I saw him get slimmer and slimmer.”
Regular exercise and other lifestyle changes can help control diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. Some people also may need medicines.
The American Heart Association recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, or a combination each week. They also should do muscle strengthening at least twice a week.
Papa Joe’s success story landed him on national TV shows, such as The Rachael Ray Show, The Doctors and Good Morning America.
Closer to home, he’s inspired some friends, including Kent Speakman, CEO of Papa Joe’s employer KNEKT-TV. Speakman, who has hiked with Papa Joe at Griffith Observatory and Runyon Canyon, recalled one hike with Papa Joe “that was supposed to be easier” had them climbing through caves.
Papa Joe also changed his eating habits, which included drinking a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew every day. Late-night binges included one or two Big Macs, two large fries, a family-size bag of Doritos and a whole chocolate cake.
“I’m an emotional eater,” Papa Joe said. “I was slowly killing myself with food.”
His first step was to clear the kitchen of candy, soda and cookies and to add fruits, vegetables and water. His daily calories fell from more than 8,000 to 1,500. Now, breakfast might be oatmeal; lunch is a tuna salad.
In 2013, Papa Joe won the AHA’s Lifestyle Change Award and he’s an AHA Life Ambassador. In April, AHA gave him a You’re the Cure award after he shared his story at AHA’s Lobby Day event in Sacramento, and visited with state lawmakers in support of a California bill that encourages walking and biking.
“I feel like a brand-new person,” he said.
Today, he has his own production company and clothing line, is a KNEKT producer and has started acting again. He’s also the host of his own show “Cooking With Papa!” on KNEKT, which is scheduled to premiere Aug. 1.
Along the way, there have been a few bumps. In 2014, a car hit Papa Joe while he was bicycling, busting his knee. And he still occasionally craves a Big Mac.
But Papa Joe, who now weighs 198 pounds, perseveres. “It’s a lifelong endeavor,” he said.