Rap Star Nelly: Fitness, Fatherhood, and a Health Foundation

How the chart-topping musician stays healthy while balancing a multi-faceted career, his family, and his work advocating for bone marrow transplants.

Rap star Nelly, born Cornell Haynes Jr., is one of the most well-known (and successful) artists in his genre. With a string of chart-topping hits and music industry awards, he's one of the best-selling male artists in American music history. He's also devoted to raising awareness about the importance of bone marrow transplants. WebMD the Magazine sat down with Nelly and asked him about his relationship with his sister, who died of leukemia in 2005, his workout regimen, being a father, and his best and worst health habits.

You really don't need an introduction, do you? In the past decade, you've recorded some of rap's most popular records, you've won three Grammys, and you have six albums under your belt. Your latest, 5.0, hit the charts only a few months ago. However, you do some of your most important work outside the music field. In 2003, you and your older sister, Jackie Donahue, who died of leukemia, founded Jes Us 4 Jackie. How did the foundation get started?

When we first started, we were trying to find a bone marrow donor for my sister. It didn't happen. But I hope to save somebody else's sister someday.

One of the goals of your foundation is to educate minorities about the importance of bone marrow and stem cell transplant donations and to encourage them to sign up for the donor registry. How do you do that? Is it hard to convince people to register?

We've held bone marrow drives in New York and L.A. at the same time, in urban communities. There, a lot of people think donating is going to be dangerous, that it's going to take weeks to recover, but it only takes a couple of hours. You're in and out quickly.

Were you and your sister very close?

We weren't always so close, not as kids. We didn't live in the same house. But we got closer the older we got and could take the relationship into our own hands. We made a conscious decision to make the bond between us strong.

What did you learn from your sister's illness?

That you can live your life as a quote-unquote healthy person and have it all suddenly taken away from you. All that you took for granted, all the obvious, everyday things, they become so much more important.

Sadly, cancer is a part of life for many families. What helped you and your family when your sister was sick?

As a family, you need to stay strong as a unit. The best medicine outside of a cure is the love of your loved ones. It was my sister who was sick. I can only imagine it as a lonely scenario. You can't take away the pain, but you can make them as comfortable as possible. Keep positive, it's the only thing you can do.

You're now 36. With so much to do, how do you stay fit?

I came up in sports, so being active -- the physical aspect of things -- it's always been there for me. As you get older, you want the odds in your favor, so you watch what you eat and work out a lot more. You start realizing the weight hangs around longer. The older you get, the more self-conscious you should get about your health.

Do you have a regular workout?

If I'm not in album-making mode, I work out five times a week. In album mode, it's rough finding the time. But I always play basketball. Basketball is the best for cardio. It's better than a treadmill, better than running. It's about fun and cardio and hooping with the boys. You release stress; you channel your stress into the game.

What's your best health habit?

My best health habit is going to the gym, even when there are a million excuses not to go.

What's your worst health habit?

My eating habits. I can get away with a lot because I've been blessed with a great metabolism. As a kid, I was skinny. I only got large from lifting weights. I know it gets harder to keep off the weight as you get older, but as a child I always needed to gain weight.

Name one of your guilty pleasures.

Waking up at 3 a.m. and eating chocolate mousse and ice cream.

You have two kids, Chanell Haynes, 17, and Cornell Haynes, III, 12. What has being a father taught you?

It's taught me to appreciate smaller, everyday pleasures, like just hanging out with them. I know they like my success, but there's a bitter side to it, too, because I'm not there as much as they want me to be.

And what are some important lessons you have tried to teach them?

You try to teach them to respect themselves and respect others. You stress the importance of education. I don't know if they have learned that. You can say it to them, but you can't know if they have learned it. Time will tell.

In the past year, you've released a hit single, a new record, an exercise video -- part of the Celebrity Sweats series -- and you've got your own clothing line, Apple Bottoms. Do you ever have time to relax?

I don't look for down time. I don't take that many vacations. Maybe I should. But I have only got so much time. It's hard to slow down when there are always new dreams, new options.

What would you say to someone who is on the fence about signing up for the bone marrow donor registry?

Any time you help people it's a beautiful thing, but people have to want to help, you have to have it in your heart to help.

Is your name on the registry?

I've signed up. Hopefully, I will get a call and be able to save someone personally.

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