Montel Williams says he only has about four years left to live — based on research and statistics on life expectancy for black men who have multiple sclerosis.
But the 55-year-old former TV talk show host, who was diagnosed with MS in 1999, has vowed to do all he can to buck the trend.
"Supposedly, I’ve got some ticking time bomb in my body. Are you kidding me?" Williams candidly tells Sun Media in an exclusive interview. "I’m not going to wait around for 59 and die. I’m going to do everything I can to live, and live a good and productive life.
"By paying attention to my diet, exercising and taking my medication on time, I’m making a difference."
For the past 13 years, the Emmy Award-winning host of The Montel Williams Show, produced from 1981 to 2008, has been waging a daily battle with the debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, and for which there is no cure.
His symptoms range from extreme neuropathic pain in his lower extremities and weakness in his left hip flexor and left shoulder, to numbness in his fingers.
Despite his predominantly upbeat attitude, Williams admits he has his moments.
"Depression is a symptom of MS. "¦ There are those days when I sit around and wallow in my muck and say, ‘Woe is me,’" the married father of four reveals. "I do that for about 10 minutes until I smack myself upside the head and realize it’s worthless, it does no good. What does good is when I say, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this.’ And I feel better."
Williams reached perhaps one of his lowest points circa 2009, when his doctor suggested during a routine checkup that it was time for the avid snowboarder to hang up his snowboard and opt for less-intense physical pursuits.
"I was so pissed. I was like, ‘Screw you, man,’ " he recalls.
At the time, Williams was experiencing a "serious decline in my physicality in the way MS was impacting me."
But the New York Times best-selling author of inspirational memoirs Climbing Higher and Mountain, Get Out of My Way wasn’t about to wave the white flag.
After his visit to the doctor, Williams realized his health and fitness regimen wasn’t quite ironclad. He was missing workouts, not eating as healthily as he could and not getting enough sleep.
"I was just a mess because I was working too hard. It was one of those critical times. The economy went bad. A couple things I was doing business-wise weren’t working," explains the entrepreneur, actor, motivational speaker and philanthropist.
"I realized, ‘Wait a minute … The more you keep taking from caring for yourself, the more your businesses will fail. You have to take care of yourself.’"
Lesson learned. Williams put his health first and life got much better.
These days, the decorated former naval intelligence officer boasts having the same size waist — 29 1/2 inches — that he did when he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1980.
An inspirationally fit 180 pounds at 5-foot-11, Williams works out seven days a week, usually for 90 minutes a session. His regimen includes plyometrics, resistance training, TRX suspension training and cardio.
Whenever he gets the chance, the Baltimore-born resident of New York City goes white-water rafting, rock climbing, jet skiing and paddle boarding. And he continues to snowboard, with a week-long heli-boarding trip planned to Alaska to coincide with his 56th birthday on July 3.
Besides his incredibly active lifestyle, Williams eats a clean diet, highlighted by fish five days a week, vegetables with almost every meal, and plenty of fruit. Occasional indulges typically involve cookies or chocolate-nut candy.
Williams also takes supplements, swearing by SafSlim and Re-Body Hunger Chews.
"I feel really good. I have to work at it every day. Because MS is such a strange disease, there are some days that no matter how hard I work, I still have a lot of pain," he says.
"But the more I do this, the more productive I am and the happier I feel. Dude, that’s called living. And I’m all about living."