LeBron James turns 39: Here are 3 evidence-based approaches he uses to stay fit

The Los Angeles Lakers forward turned 39 on Saturday.

December 30, 2023, 8:42 AM

LeBron James turned 39 on Saturday, and he continues to dominate in the NBA while being the oldest current player -- and shows no signs of slowing down.

According to James, the key to success is consistency.

In a 2018 interview with author and podcaster Tim Ferriss, James said he's "very consistent with training my body, rehabbing my body, eating, having my body be very clean throughout this journey because I've always wanted to have a long career, or as long as I could be in this space."

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at the United Center on December 20, 2023 in Chicago.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

A 2020 study done on the effects of age and the performance of athletes in the NBA found that players over 30 covered much less distance during games compared to younger players.

The Los Angeles Lakers forward ranked ninth in minutes played per game in the 2022-23 season despite being the oldest player in the league. He is currently ranked 38th in average minutes per game this season. The average age of the players ranked above James this season is more than a decade younger than him.

And in February 2023, James set the record for most career points in NBA history, toppling Hall of Famer and fellow Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Experts say James' consistency and dedication to nutrition, sleep and mental health are working to his advantage. According to nutritionists and fitness experts, anyone can benefit from some of James' most-discussed health practices.

Here are three tips from experts:

Focus on nutrition and fitness

LeBron told Ferriss he keeps his diet as "clean as possible throughout the season when I’m burning so much and trying to get the recovery back," and tries to stay away from "artificial drinks, artificial sugars and fried foods" year-round.

Studies suggest that a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can help people live longer.

Kate Patton, a sports nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic, compared the human body to a sports car to explain that to get longevity, "you need more expensive gas," and for the body, that is "nutrient-dense food."

For someone looking to improve their diet, she said eating more whole foods and "less processed foods" is very important to encourage muscle recovery and decrease oxidative stress on the body.

Things that are "nutrition powerhouses" such as whole grains, vegetables and beans should be a priority, Patton said.

"Ninety percent of any fitness goal is having the correct nutrition for your body type and goals," Justin Bauer, a Cleveland, Ohio-based health and fitness coach, said, adding that "prioritizing nutrition will ensure that you're getting the full benefit of your workouts."

Experts say anyone can highlight nutrition and fitness in enjoyable ways. Doing what you enjoy both for nutrition and fitness is the best way to see results, Bauer added.

Prioritize sleep

James prioritizes sleep and gets between 8-9 hours a night, sometimes even 10, and has called it self-care. James uses sleep techniques such as keeping his room between 68-70 degrees, having a completely dark room and cutting out distractions, his trainer, Mike Mancias, told Ferriss in 2018.

Dr. Upneet Chawla, a sleep medicine specialist in the greater Chicago area, cited an American Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study from 2021 that showed poor sleep can negatively affect mental health and increase risk of injury in NBA athletes.

Adequate sleep allows for the body to recover "physically and emotionally" so that you're ready to take on the next day at the "highest level," James has said.

"Don't sleep on sleep, make it a priority," Chawla said, and suggested sleeping in a dark, cool room, which helps increase the sleep hormone melatonin.

Chawla also suggested sticking to a regular sleep-wake schedule during the week and weekends, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep consistently. Many studies have linked good quality sleep with improved health, she added.

LeBron James runs down the court in the second half of the West semifinal game at T-Mobile Arena on December 07, 2023 in Las Vegas.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Mental health

Poor mental health can impact your physical health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

For James, protecting his mental energy is important. When he experiences a loss, he doesn't "dwell on that loss," but rather tries to "learn from that defeat" and finds ways to learn and improve, he said. He also talks in his 2018 interview with Ferriss about patience with his teammates, family and himself, and the importance of communication and understanding others' mindsets.

Studies suggest poor mental well-being can weaken the immune system and cause an imbalance between the fight-or-flight and rest systems, which has been associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Kanithra Sekaran, M.D., is an internal medicine resident physician at MetroHealth Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Related Topics