Bob Harper is a true survivor. In 2017, just about a year after being promoted from trainer to host of NBC’s weight loss competition show The Biggest Loser, he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. “It’s been a roller coaster, I’ll tell you that!” Bob, 54, shares exclusively with Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
Not only has he recovered from his ordeal, he’s turned the experience into a positive one by speaking to fellow heart attack victims on the national Survivors Have Heart tour, set to resume later this year. On January 28, he’ll begin hosting a rebooted version of The Biggest Loser on USA Network, and he’s planning a “fun event” wedding with his fiancé, Anton Gutierrez, 34, director of production for the app NEOU Fitness. “My life has changed completely, and the main thing that has changed for me is becoming an advocate for heart attack survivors,” he shares. “I feel stronger — mentally and physically — every day.”
Scroll down for more from our chat with Bob Harper!
First off, how are you feeling?
I feel great today! I’m in my hometown, Nashville, to meet with other survivors. It’s really important to me, because [AstraZeneca and I have] created this wonderful place where survivors and caregivers can get together and talk about their experiences.
February 12 will mark three years since your heart attack. How have these years been?
It’s been eye-opening. I look at the footage of the first Survivors Have Heart and it’s very emotional for me, because I was still so fresh after having a heart attack. I was there to be the mediator, but found I was really just on this journey, so emotionally and passionately, with everyone else. As more time passed, while it’s important to watch your physical health, it became so much more about the emotional struggle.
How have you changed since your attack?
After you’ve survived it, you just want life to go back to the way it used to be. When you realize that maybe it won’t, you know you’re going to find a new normal. I have a strong relationship with my health care providers. I see them twice a year, get my checkups. I’m definitely on top of all that.
Has your fitness routine changed?
Very drastically. It’s as extreme as it used to be, but in a completely different way. The main workouts I do are hot yoga classes, and they’re intense, but they’re not the super-high-intensity type I was used to, just pushing myself to these crazy limits. I’ve found more of a balance, and I feel really good about that.
Has anything else changed?
Whenever I’m in a new place, I always look around for the AED [automated external defibrillator]. I’m always assessing people, thinking, “If I have another heart attack, who knows how to perform CPR? Who’d be diligent?” That’s how my brain is now.
You’ve shot the reboot of The Biggest Loser, debuting January 28. What’s new?
As the host, I’ve created a support group for the contestants to talk about whatever we’re going through. We have two new trainers, a new medical team and we’re in a new location: Santa Fe, New Mexico. There’s a reason why they call that place the Land of Enchantment — that place is magical and so peaceful! I live in L.A. and New York, and I love New York, but when I got back, I thought, “Why is everyone so loud here?”
Do any of the show’s changes reflect what you’ve gone through, like aftercare?
We’re giving guests a gym membership and nutritionist for a year, because losing weight is the easiest part; keeping it off is the hardest. If you don’t take what I’m offering and put it into your daily life, you’re going to struggle. And there’s no finish line: You’re going to be dealing with this forever. When you’re able to swallow that pill, you’re going to have more success.
Any moment that set you on your path?
I grew up in rural Tennessee on a farm and wanted to experience something else. As soon as I graduated from high school, I was on a bus to the closest city, Nashville, and started experiencing life with different types of people. And my parents taught me a strong work ethic. Summer vacations meant getting up at 5 a.m. and working on the farm every day. I thank them for that.
When did you become serious about your body and health?
I’ve always taken it seriously — though not as much as when I turned 40. I thought, I want to grow old like a fine wine, to defy my age. I just turned 54 and I feel good, feel strong, still look good. [Laughs]
What’s your support system?
Well, my doctors, but also my friend and assistant, Nicole, and my fiancé [Anton] have been there every step of the way. In the beginning, they never left me because I was afraid to be by myself and have another heart attack. They went through a lot emotionally too.
What makes Anton The One?
We met in Laguna Beach, California, and just hit it off. He’s one of the kindest, sweetest people in the world. He can deal with me when I’ve got so many things going on and stress. He knows how to calm the storm.
Are you planning your wedding now?
I am definitely planning an event. [Laughs] It’s going to be very different. I have zero desire to be walking down an aisle or anything like that. I want it to be fun!
Why’d you come out on the show in 2013?
People thought that I was hiding something, but that was never the case. I came out in high school in Tennessee — that was a big deal. I never chose to talk about it on the air, because my job was all about the contestants, until I worked with one, Bobby [Saleem], who was struggling. I thought, He can learn something from me. I was really glad I did, because I’ve never been ashamed or wanted to hide it.
Anything on your bucket list?
I’d really like to have my own talk show. I like sitting down and talking to people.
What are your biggest life lessons?
One of the biggest is to not stress the big or small things — being able to say, “Who cares?” It’s important to realize that life is so short. Surround yourself with people you want to, enjoy your life and do things like eating right and exercising to stack the deck in your favor. There’s a stereotype that heart attacks are for people who are overweight, with high stress, smokers. I’m living proof that we’re all at risk.
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Reporting by Diana Cooper