This Is How Anthony Bourdain Stayed Fit

The last third of Anthony Bourdain's life largely revolved around his shows, which in turn, largely revolved around food and alcohol. However, as Patrick Radden Keefe realized while writing his 2017 profile of Bourdain in The New Yorker, "He is Apollo in drag as Dionysus." The reason Bourdain could present the best aspects of a decadent lifestyle is because he took care of his body as well.

"Off camera, I don't go around getting drunk at night," Bourdain explained, and it became clear that while he enjoyed the food he ate, he rarely gorged himself. Most importantly, however, Bourdain also practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu almost every day, regardless of where in the world his show took him. Bourdain first really learned of the martial art when Ottavia Busia, his second wife, discovered it in an attempt to regain fitness after the birth of their daughter Ariane. She became devoted to the art and got Bourdain to try it. "I knew he was going to like the problem-solving aspect of it," she said to Keefe. "It's a very intellectual sport."

By 2016, Anthony Bourdain had earned a blue belt and become competent enough to win the Masters 5 Middleweight Division (per Bloody Elbow). He was 60 at the time.

Jiu-Jitsu gave Anthony Bourdain 'focus' and 'anxiety release'

When Anthony Bourdain talked about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he couched it in terms of a new, healthier addiction. When Men's Journal asked him about how he fell so quickly for the martial art, he said, "Look, I'm an addict. There is something that ticks for me. I find myself going to pretty great lengths to get my time in." It gave him a focus to drive energies that would otherwise continue to push him along self-destructive paths. 

Matt Walsh — a Hong Konger, who helped Bourdain create episodes that featured Asia — recalled to the South China Morning Post how part of his job was to find Jiu-Jitsu gyms for him to train at during the short bursts of downtime. "Idle time was bad for him because idle time perhaps gave him the opportunity to do things he shouldn't do, or think thoughts he shouldn't think," he said. "Jiu-jitsu gave him focus and certainly tension release, anxiety release."

So Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu kept his body healthy between scenes of a gluttonous life and his mind busy. But, like the frantic pace with which he traveled from location to location, the sport gave Bourdain a reprieve, not relief. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).