Former NFL Pro & Human Performance Expert Femi Ayanbadejo Shares Tips on How to Achieve Authentic Wellness

By Gabrielle Pharms | December 28, 2021

Wellness has a variety of different definitions for people. For some, it’s solely about the mind, and yet for others, it’s all about the physical fitness component. However, for former NFL player and founder of HealthReel Femi Ayanbadejo, wellness is a harmonious blend of peak physical and emotional health. He states, “Wellness to me is something that improves my quality of life for the length of my life. That means that I'm addressing my mental health, and I'm addressing my emotional health and my physical health simultaneously.”

The NorCal native has been an athlete his entire life, playing college football at San Diego State University before going pro in the NFL for 11 years. Ayanbadejo was a member and power contributor on the 2000 Ravens Super Bowl XXXV championship team. Upon retiring from the NFL in 2010, Ayanbadejo sought more. He adds, “My time as an athlete, my natural inclination was, how do I become the best version of myself? This has been a lifelong quest for me that started out as a fun thing to be a better athlete, but then I really wanted to pull the levers of what I call self-health and not only learn to improve myself but also learn to help other people.”

See more: 5 Ways to Practice Mindfulness, According to Wellness Guru Nicoletta de la Brown

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A post shared by Femi Ayanbadejo (@obafemi30)

As he’s morphed from being a professional athlete into his career as a practitioner, nutritionist, personal trainer, gym owner, and a technology transfer partner with NASA, Ayanbadejo’s ultimate priority became how he could “democratize health information, health education, and assessments in a way that everybody can have access,” he mentions. Though he never set out to be involved in the health technology sector, his inherent need to help others become the best versions of themselves was the impetus. “I had a natural inclination to try to want to help other people and do it in a way that was disruptive, forward-thinking, using AI machine learning, regression, and all these different mathematical models that are pretty common now, but not necessarily integrated into one platform that really looks at the human being holistically, mental health, emotional health, and physical health,” he adds. Ayanbadejo secured his MBA from Johns Hopkins in 2014, then became hyper-focused on building the HealthReel app, which is set to be released in summer 2022.

The app, which uses NASA’s algorithm and HealthReel’s AI, assesses your current health and provides an in-depth roadmap to get you to where you should be for a healthy future. “My dad has a Ph.D. in psychology. So, I think this idea of optimization, this concept of self-actualization, which goes back to psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – I grew up with that stuff,” Ayanbadejo says. “I have a bias toward mental and emotional health states because I believe they are the drivers, ultimately, of what we consider physical health outcomes. Whether it's depression, anxiety, obesity, type 2 diabetes, etcetera, I believe those are beyond genetics. Those are tied to mental health. So, unless we're addressing all the potential health issues simultaneously, we're really ignoring a huge swath of people that just need to get past what's in their head first, and then we can focus on the exercise and nutrition.”

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A post shared by Femi Ayanbadejo (@obafemi30)

The foundation of HealthReel is based on what Ayanbadejo calls the “four levers of self-health.” First, there’s traditional health performance: sleep, exercise, nutrition, and your support system. The second is awareness by actively participating in your own health. The third lever is information and communication quality. Regarding good information versus bad intel, Ayanbadejo says, “Good information leads to good outcomes. We live in a society today where people lie on social media. People perpetuate conspiracy theories. They’re living their lives based on a lie, the lie they tell themselves, and the lies they tell each other. That is not sustainable.” The fourth lever is based on trauma and survival events. “Survival events are small. They're subjective, they're personal, anything that attacks your character, your livelihood, your family, your job, you, is a survival event,” he states. “The most important thing in any survival event is to survive it. The next most important thing is to assess it. The third important thing is to learn from it. The fourth most important thing is to deploy your learnings, and the fifth is to share as to help someone else avoid the same survival event.”

Ultimately, Ayanbadejo hopes he and the HealthReel platform can be aspirational from the standpoint that people don't feel judged. “Human beings – we're weird. We take things so personal sometimes that are there to help us. We get so emotional about it that we block it out or we ignore it when the truth is a warning sign saying like, ‘Yo, you're not in a good place,’” he adds. “So, when it comes to fitness, we are agnostic. When it comes to nutrition, we are agnostic. When it comes to exercise, we're agnostic. We don't care. There's a lot of good decisions that you can make when it comes to what type of lifestyle and diet you want to deploy. There's no one way. We're trying to deliver that but also say we can get you to the right place.”

Photography by: Courtesy of Femi Ayanbadejo