When Rob Lowe looks in the mirror, he expects to find the same person looking back at him every day: a lean, toned, fresh-faced man in peak physical condition—himself at 28, the age when he had already gotten sober and married Sheryl Berkoff. “I feel exactly like that guy,” Lowe says. “And I see him.” It’s not that Lowe, 54, is oblivious to the passage of time—he’s just made himself impervious to it. “I’m fitter than I’ve ever been. More experienced. Smarter,” says the actor, who landed his first major TV role in 1979 and whose breakthrough came in the 1983 film The Outsiders. “I’m not looking at a 20-year-old kid in a cape as my due north,” he adds. “I’m looking at a guy like Springsteen.”
Lowe’s man in the mirror is familiar to anyone who’s watched him. As his Parks and Recreation alter ego, Chris Traeger, would say, he looks li-trilly unchanged. Consider the meme “Incredible timelapse gif showing Rob Lowe ageing [sic] over the last 30 years,” which is, in fact, a recent still image of him—psych. “I treat it as a compliment,” Lowe says, but he chafes at any suggestion that making time stand still is a passive endeavor.
Lowe’s status as a real-life Dorian Gray is based on a rigorous exercise regimen, a dedication to a low-carb diet (last year he became a spokesman for Atkins, the eating plan that emphasizes protein and healthy fats), and a love of outdoor sports. It doesn’t hurt that he is, by both profession and personal inclination, invested in self-care. (He launched Profile, a skin-care line including an under-eye serum, moisturizer, sunscreen, and shaving gel, in 2015.) Or that he’s open about his desire to look good. “Men deny having vanity—that’s the greatest vanity,” Lowe says. “Not me. I’m vain as fuck.”
Lowe remembers getting his first real taste of working out as a teenager while filming The Outsiders: He joined costars Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, who would drive 45 minutes to the one health club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with Nautilus machines. “They were animals about it,” he recalls. “I was just kind of doing it because they were doing it.” His fascination with fitness took hold a few years later while he prepared to play a hungry hockey prospect in Youngblood. The role required him to bulk up, Lowe recalls: “It was the first time I ever had a trainer and did proper weight work.” He also skated and practiced hockey, leaning over the boards to vomit. “It was brutal,” he says.
After reaching idol status, he went through a speed-freak phase, when he trained with the UCLA track team. As his penchant for partying grew, Lowe, one of the ’80s Brat Pack, would use fitness to plaster over his alcohol abuse, working out like a demon to reassure himself he didn’t have a problem. In his mind, no matter what wild stuff he did, if he could still run a 60-second quarter mile, he was fine. Inevitably, he could—and he still can today.
At 26, in 1990, Lowe managed to get sober, and exercise played a new role in his life. “It became an outlet for all of the tension, stresses, compulsivity,” he says. “I funneled the addiction, frankly, into that.” Today, after 28 years of sobriety, Lowe’s devotion to fitness qualifies as a dependency in its own right. A typical day starts with a 45-minute Peloton bike ride or a run. He follows that with traditional lifting and circuit training. He prefers to exercise alone: “I don’t want to have the smoothie stand. I don’t want to look at beautiful women when I work out.” He also never wears earbuds. “I like the forced mental solitude of it,” he says. “Inevitably, it will force you to start working through things you’re not going to if you’re listening to Jay-Z.”
For a long time, Lowe felt this routine meant he could eat whatever he wanted. As he approached 40, that started to change. He was aware of Robert Atkins, M.D., “from the beginning,” he says. He became a convert to the high-protein, low-carb plan. He scoffs at the thought that it’s a license to eat two In-N-Out burgers without buns, because as he practices it, Atkins is a program built to maintain, not yo-yo. He’s also experimenting with intermittent fasting, and often skips breakfast. His typical menu on no-breakfast days: Greek yogurt, berries, and nuts for a snack at 11:30 a.m., chopped-chicken salad for lunch, and steak and vegetables for dinner. He’ll allow himself rare cheat meals (pizza and a chocolate milkshake). When we meet, he has just come from a fitting for his new show, Wild Bill. Normally a nerve-racking affair, it was no problem for Lowe, who has had the same measurements for 20 years.
In his lighter moments, Lowe admits he’s been scared skinny, driven by fear of a dad bod. Yet thanks to fatherhood, he’s found his way of combating it: surfing. Although Lowe grew up in Malibu, he only took up the sport at age 40 after his sons, Matthew and John Owen, did. “They got me into that, and I’ve gotten them back into the gym,” he says. At this point, Lowe’s surfing skills have far surpassed those of his sons, who are 25 and 23, respectively.
Surfing has offered Lowe proof that the immutable man is changing. “I had the best surf day of my life three days ago,” he says, describing his last session at a Santa Barbara break known as Little Rincon. “Set waves. Double overhead. Not a drop of wind. Seventy-five degrees. Pumping. Guys were getting barreled.” He pauses to ponder the sport’s particular appeal to him as someone in recovery and obsessed with continuity. “You’re always chasing a high that you’re probably not going to ever repeat,” he says. “Conditions change, so no waves ever just stay the same. Nothing can ever stay the same. Nothing.”