The former heavyweight boxing champ was known for his wicked left jab. But today he's outsmarting a new opponent—the pain caused by gout!
Boxing legend Larry Holmes likes to wind down with a beer most evenings. Considering that he traded blows with greats like Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson, who could blame the ex-champ for wanting to enjoy a few cold ones in retirement?
Problem is, Larry likes beer, but beer doesn't like Larry.
Blame it on gout. Diagnosed with this painful form of arthritis a few years ago, Larry, 63, has found that alcohol, a common gout trigger, can inflame his big toe joint. "When it hits, it feels like I have a broken bone," he told Health Monitor during the afternoon we spent with him in his hometown of Easton, PA. "I can't walk on it. It's painful just to stand."
Here's why: Gout occurs when a substance called uric acid builds up in the blood and forms crystals that settle in the joints (the big toe is a common spot), triggering sudden and severe episodes of pain. Unfortunately, African American men are twice as likely as white males to have gout, so the odds aren't in Larry's favor. The good news? Gout can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes that lower uric acid levels—and that's just what the ex-fighter is doing.
Exercise is another must to control gout, since weight gain can raise uric acid levels. Even though Larry hung up his gloves in 2002—after 69 wins and just 6 losses—he's far from sedentary these days. "I try to do everything I used to do. I just don't do it as long. I used to jump rope for 10 minutes; now I do only a minute or two. Same thing with my shadowboxing. I still do it, but I've cut back."
Larry also pays more attention to footwear, choosing styles that help protect his toe joints. "I buy shoes with thick rubber bottoms," he says. "They keep me from sliding and allow me to stand longer during a concert." While he's singing at a concert, that is! Twenty years ago, Larry and some childhood friends started a rhythm and blues band called Marmalade, and they've played everywhere from Las Vegas to Indonesia.
Refusing to slow down
These days, Larry is a busy entrepreneur and oversees two office buildings, a gym and a restaurant called Champ's Corner, all near his home in Easton. And when he's not performing with his band, Larry likes to spend free time with his family.
"I've been married 38 years and have five children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren," he tells us in between phone calls with his wife, Diane, and "good friend" George Foreman, another former heavyweight champion. "I don't worry about anything, because it's time for me to live my life and enjoy what I got," says Larry, who is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. "I just do what I want to do and I have fun doing it."
Win the bout against gout!
Larry uses this one-two punch: medication and avoidance of gout triggers. If you have more than two attacks a year, daily medication is needed to keep uric acid in check, says rheumatologist David Mandel, MD, who practices in Mayfield Village, OH. Here are common gout triggers; ask your doctor if you're at risk for other ones.