The Challenge Competitor Mark Long Talks His Best Fitness Tips And Staying In Shape At 51 - Exclusive Interview

Any fans of "The Challenge" franchise know Mark Long as a long-time participant — he first started on the series in 1998. In the past few years, he's taken an even bigger role in "The Challenge" as a competitor and executive producer on the Paramount+ spin-off series, "The Challenge: All Stars." The spin-off has been a huge hit with fans of the show since it's brought back their favorite competitors from past seasons to go up against each other again. Long has competed in Season 1 and 3 of "The Challenge: All Stars."

At 51, he's gone up against people 20 years younger than him and shown that he's still a top competitor. During an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Long shared how he's stayed in peak physical condition in his middle age and why he doesn't see his age as a detriment to his game. He also shared his best advice for staying in shape or starting a fitness routine as you age.

Competing against younger contestants at 51

People might be surprised to see you're 51 and still competing and winning against younger people. 

What's crazy is I've never really ... Listen, I know I'm 51 years old. I'm not going to hide from that, but I never equated that with how you should feel when you're 51. I've never physically felt my age in terms of breaking down, or being less competitive, or not having the energy or motivation to go exercise. If anything, I exercise now more than I did in my 20s because I feel so good after I do it. Unlike back then, I was exercising, trying to look good and to have girls notice me on the beach and feel cool. Now, it's a totally different change for me. I exercise now as more of a mental release. It's my mental therapy, my mental church. When I'm in the gym, and I put my earphones in and think about work or think about different things in my life, it's definitely a release.

Do you still look good in your Under Armour uniform? Sure. But it's not about that anymore. It's more about how I feel great. That's why I exercise — and believe it or not, if I don't exercise for a few days in a row, I actually feel bad. My body starts feeling bad; not that I feel sick, it's just that I'm not running at tip-top how my engine should run if I'm not exercising. We just did this reunion thing, all the cast in Kansas City, and I took two days off of exercising. When I landed on Sunday, I could not wait to go exercise because my mind works that way.

Again, that's not a thing of vanity; it's more of a thing of sanity to keep my mind fresh. But I've never felt my age. No one usually guesses my age. I had a guy in the gym the other day go, "Yeah, well, I'm 47." I said, "Yeah, well, I'm 51." He's like, "No. Go away." He's out of shape. I always get that. 

But even in this past challenge, you saw Jordan [Wiseley]. He was 20 years younger than me, 30 years old. He called me out, and I sent his ass home. The 50-year-olds everywhere went crazy and applauded and loved it. I can seriously say I feel confident, at my age, physically going into any type of ... whether it's a challenge or elimination. I feel like the other guys know that now. They know that I'm very confident these days. I am kind of the bigger guy in the house, so maybe he'll think next time when he tries to call me out, but I love Jordan.

How his strategy for The Challenge has changed over time

As "The Challenge" has gone on, people take it more seriously as far as strategy and prepping before. How has the way you approached the competition changed?

A little secret for you is that it really woke me up this past final that the strength and my power will only get me so far, usually to the end. But if I don't have a proper cardiovascular gas tank, I'm not going to win a final. I told Wes [Bergmann] and the guys that this past weekend. 

I just joined a running club and got running shoes, and the next time you see me, I am going to be like a streamlined cheetah that has muscles, because I'm not going to be the one that's struggling in the running portions of a final. That's not going to happen ever again. [I] started my first day the other day — [it] went great. I'd like to say that I increase my training as it gets closer to the challenges, but I work out so much that I just add a few things. Basically, maybe [I'll] start doing some puzzles on my phone a little bit more than I used to because that's [an] equalizer as well.

But to this day, I never show up thinking that I'm less in shape. I never feel like the old guy, I never feel the weakest, and I never feel like I'm not mentally fit and deserving of being there. That's why I made both the finals, and that's why I'm undefeated in eliminations. I come with such a positive wave of emotion that I say this at the very beginning of every challenge: "It is going to take a Godzilla gorilla to send me out of this house." I meant that every time, so we'll see.

Long's best advice for staying in shape as you age

Do you have any advice for other people who are getting into their fifties trying to stay in shape?

Yes, I do. My advice to people my age is always, if you start a training program, be consistent. Consistency is the key to anything. But with consistency, I also say don't start off an exercise program saying "I'm going to go seven days a week," because then it feels like work. Then you're not looking forward to doing it.

I tell people, go get a gym membership [and] start going one or two times a week. After you go a few weeks of that, go a third day a week coming up. Then as you start learning stuff and feeling more confident with what you're doing in your body, then you add the days. Then, instead of right off the bat it feeling like work and having it be this drag, it's almost like you look forward to those days where you exercise. You're like, "Wow, it's Monday. Thursday I'm going to do this, and this, and this, and feel great," because if you're not consistent [then] it's going to go away fast, and you're going to forget about it.

Everyone always has a choice when they wake up that day. It's a 50/50 shot. I'm either going to the gym, and I'm exercising, or I'm not. I've had long days where I didn't want to go, and I made myself get up. I'll guarantee you, once you do that, the rest of your day will be not only more productive, but you'll feel way better doing it. I've always believed in that. That's why I'm a morning exercise guy. If you go to work out in the morning, do it, get it over, it sets the whole table for your day. Anything else after that is a bonus.

If you physically cannot do it because you're working so long, I've always told people [to] go for a walk at lunch or park your car two miles away when you come in and have to walk to work. Figure out some advantages that aren't going to the gym, necessarily, but can at least keep you healthy and keep your heart healthy and your cardiovascular performance up, because there are so many little tricks.

How he ran 4 miles in his hotel room

I literally love going to travel and staying in a hotel room. I turned my entire hotel room into a fitness center. You'd walk in and be like, "Wow, I guess he really can exercise in here," because we were in quarantine. We did quarantine for two and a half weeks on the first "Challenge: All Stars" and couldn't even leave our rooms. I managed in a hotel room to jog four miles a day; it's the absolute truth. I looked like a psycho doing it, going back and forth in the room. But after I did it, I felt amazing, and [had] my tracker on and everything.

I remember Kendal [Darnell] was below me, and she'd call my room and go, "What are you doing up there? Every day for two hours banging." I'm like, "Oh, it's my jog." If there's a will, there's a way. People have to make that decision. Be consistent — don't start off seven days a week, and have the guts to do it. You only get one lap around this world, so why not be as healthy as you can and go for it? 

I can't wait for the next challenge, whatever that might be. I'm already training now for it — who knows when it's going to happen. Never let age be a number that's going to discourage you from starting the fitness program. You can do it. You look in the mirror every morning, and you have a 50/50 shot, so do it.

You can stream "The Challenge: All Stars" on Paramount+.

This interview was edited for clarity.