Chris Cornell remembers the 1990s with a smile and a cringe. As the lead singer for the Seattle-based alternative band Soundgarden, he was a rock god, with all the trappings that come with the title—screaming fans, sold-out arenas, multiplatinum albums. But after the release of Soundgarden's fifth album (Down on the Upside) in 1996, the hard partying and relentless touring started to catch up with him. "I was basically poisoning myself," says Cornell, who is now in his late 40s. "The choices I was making were messing up my health and hurting how I sang and performed."
Something had to give. To continue down his drug-addled path would be to follow in the footsteps of fellow grunge icons Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Shannon Hoon—all dead by the age of 35, Staley and Hoon by overdose. Fortunately, what gave was the drugs and booze. "After I quit smoking and drinking, everything became easier," he says. But that was only the first step. "I also had to focus on what was working," he adds. High on that list: fitness. (Build your best body ever with Speed Shred, the all-new follow-along DVD series from Men's Health!)
LIVE IN BALANCE
Cornell had dabbled in exercise, but like most guys, he never gave it the attention it deserved. "Staying fit was a big struggle," he says. "My brain was constantly trying to talk me out of it."
Working out wasn't easy. It took considerable effort not only to do the exercises but also to fit them into his jam-packed schedule. And it didn't mesh well with the vice-laden lifestyle to which Cornell had become accustomed. But you don't rise to the top of the Billboard charts by making excuses, and Cornell was determined to apply that same discipline to improving his health and well-being. "Eventually I fell into a rhythm," he says. "Now, even though I'm in my 40s, exercise is no longer a battle—it's a natural state." (Have the best new exercises delivered to you weekly. Sign up for the Men’s Health Exercise of the Week newsletter.)
FIND YOUR PASSION
The key for Cornell was figuring out a way to sweat that felt less like a chore and more like a diversion. The solution, mountain biking, might very well have saved his life. "I discovered that it relaxed me and helped me burn off excess energy," says Cornell, who admits he has plenty of energy to spare—which for him is not always a good thing.
Perhaps that's why he spends so much time on two wheels—as much as 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. "I make sure to include some sprints up the hills surrounding my home," says Cornell, who rides in L.A'.s Benedict Canyon (search: Best cities for biking). He supplements his rides with body-weight workouts in order to improve his cycling performance and stay fit for his concerts. "I used to be exhausted after a 2-hour show," he says. "Now when I walk off the stage, I feel like I still have another hour left in me."
Two-plus hours of exercise every day might sound like a luxury--perhaps even overkill—but for Cornell, it's an essential part of the workday. "It helps my creative process," he says. "I've composed entire songs, including 'The Keeper' from the film Machine Gun Preacher, while riding my bike." Just as many guys wouldn't skip a conference call or a meeting with a client, Cornell makes sure he never misses a workout. For him, exercise is not an optional activity—it's a nonnegotiable must-do. (Consistent workouts mean better results. Learn 13 Proven Ways to Stick to Your Workout.)
CREATE A STRONG SECOND ACT
Cornell admits that he occasionally looks back and wonders what might have been if he'd done things differently. "Sometimes I think that if I'd quit drinking and smoking earlier, I might have enjoyed myself more when I was younger," he says. But then he reminds himself that the point is that he did quit. "I'm in the best shape of my life," says Cornell. "Singing has become easier, I can perform for an hour longer than I used to, and my vocal range is much better."
That's good news for fans who have been eagerly awaiting Soundgarden's latest studio album, King Animal—the band's first release with new material in 16 years. It's also a promising sign of what's to come for the band and its charismatic lead singer.
At the age of 48, Cornell has become a senior statesman of rock—a stage in many musicians' careers when they cling desperately to the dwindling light of their past glory, content to replay old hits and leave innovation to the younger stars. Not this front man. "I haven't reached the end of my rope," he says with a smile. "Not even close."
For more ways to better your health and body like Cornell, follow these tricks to Add Years to Your Life.