An inspirational speaker, author, and former Wall Street rainmaker, Jim Owen was 70 when he decided he had to get fit.
Years of a chair-bound lifestyle were taking their toll. Realizing that the old bodybuilding approach was no way to tackle the stiffness, weakness, and aches and pains that come with age, he set off on a journey of discovery and transformation.
With help from the experts, he developed a common-sense, step-by-step program that can be tailored to any level of physical ability. Along the way, he learned why cardio machines aren't enough, what it takes to be "functionally fit" for daily life, and how to stay motivated.
Today, Owen is in better shape than he was at 25, and he is a passionate evangelist for fitness as a way of life. He has proved that you don't have to be powerless in the face of advancing years: if you make a commitment to "just move," you can take charge of the aging process and make your coming years the best they can be.
Listen as Owen joins host Lisa Davis to share more about the Just Move! program and his book, Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50.
Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50 with James Owen
This episode of Talk Fitness is in partnership with The Vitamin Shoppe where knowledgeable health enthusiasts are standing by to help you thrive every day.
Lisa Davis (Host): Hi, I’m Lisa Davis and I’m so glad that you are here because we have got a fantastic guest today. I am in love with his book. it is called Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50. It is by James P. Owen, best-selling author of Cowboy Ethics. James joins us now or do you prefer Jim?
James P. Owen (Guest): Jim. And by the way, Lisa, I’m dancing as we are speaking.
Lisa: Oh, are you?
Jim: It’s called Just Move!
Lisa: Well you know that is a good thing and I actually have a treadmill desk which I am not using at the moment because I have a knee injury, but usually I am walking slowly because if it is too loud you will hear this like hmmmm. But I just have to say; this is great and what good timing. My husband and I both just turned 50 and we are very active and very athletic and everything. But I’m looking at fitness in a different way. I think for so many of us, when we are younger, we look at it more from an aesthetic perspective, which I think is good to get you motivated but there is a point where like I’m never going to look like I’m 25. I want to be functional; which you talk about functional fitness. I want to be able to move when I get older. I don’t want to be using a walker if I don’t have to. There are all these things. So, Jim, tell us about yourself and then let’s jump into this fabulous book.
Jim: Well, Lisa, I spent 35 years in the investment world and I was on the road continually meeting with clients and that kind of stuff. And so, it was good – it was great for business, my wife of 49 years was understanding, the kids you know grew up but the truth is; the day I turned 70, someone sent me a video, a little clip of me shuffling up to give a speech. And I said, “That’s not me. I’m not that old guy.” I said, “What happened to my energy?” My shoulders were slumped and my back was killing me. It was obvious, I was in pain. Knees were shot, hips were tight and my right rotator cuff was frozen. I was in awful shape. The truth is, I got lucky, whatever you want to call it. I had a great career, but it darn near killed me so to speak. I didn’t have time to exercise. And the day I turned 70, I looked in the mirror and I said, “If I feel like this now, how am I going to feel in five years or ten years or whatever?” and that’s what got me started doing this fitness thing. Jim, are you certified? Yeah. Certified couch potato. That’s what I was.
Lisa: Well that’s just so interesting to me because I received the book, before I read it I assumed that you had been in the fitness industry your whole life and you know you were like the Jack LaLanne type and for the young people listening; Jack LaLanne google him you YouTube him. I grew up, my mother was really into Jack LaLanne and she used to actually.
Jim: Oh he was the best.
Lisa: Wasn’t he and we used to go to this Jack LaLanne Spa. He’s wonderful. So, then okay, because there is so much great information, this must have taken a long time because you did your research. Let me tell you, I have been in the fitness and health world for years and your advice is spot on.
Jim: Lisa, I think understand this, anybody who is in the investment world, you know managing money and that kind of stuff; loves research. If you don’t you shouldn’t be in the business because most of what we do is pretty non-glamorous. It is just reading and talking to smart people and that kind of stuff. And so, I love research, always have loved reading books and that kind of stuff so I didn’t – I’m not an expert. I don’t claim – I don’t have an advanced degree in kinesiology. I just started reading. I went to the best book store in America called Powell P-O-W-E-L-L, Powell Books in Portland Oregon. And there I squatted down for about three days. They must have had 600-800 books, used books and I bought probably 20 or 30 of them. And I went home and devoured them and said I want to learn all I can because I’m a novice about this, before I go into it.
And what I developed was some – I don’t want to call them rules, but kind of principles that I developed based on my own experience and what I have learned. And that is kind of what has helped me get through this thing. And all I can say is Lisa, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m down to 154 pounds. I weighed 205 at one point. I could not do one real push up on the first day I worked out with a trainer. I can do three sets of 50. I don’t do it every day. But it just goes to show you; it’s the key, is just small continuous progress. There is no big giant leaps, particularly if you are 50 or 60 or 70. It’s not possible. It just you got to get started. Do the best you can with what you have got but think about longer term as opposed to I have got to get a quick fix. Or I have got to lose 20 pounds over the next you know three or four months.
When you are young; exercising I think is probably vanity driven. I need to lose forty, I need to lose twenty pounds, I’m getting married next year or something. Or I need to – I want to look good in a bathing suit. When you are 50, or 60; I think it hopefully, is health driven. And so, the by-product of all this exercising and fitness stuff is you do look better and you certainly feel better. But that should not be the driving force. The driving force for me was, I came across a statistic, Lisa, which maybe you have seen and it said if you make it to 70; you are expected to live, statistically out a very large population, you are going to live at least another 15 years, on average. You might get hit by a truck the next day. You might live to be 100. But when I looked in the mirror and I’m telling you I was in terrible shape, I said, “Jim, you can only downhill from here. If you do make it to 85, can you imagine what you are going to look like and feel like, if you look like this now?” I’m an old man at 70 and I said I don’t like that. I said what can I do? So, this was an educational thing for me. It also became a lot of fun.
This is not – never a chore. I mean I said I needed to do this and Lisa, I made it a priority and said I’m going to learn whatever I can about exercising, what to do, what not to do and I’m going work out with the best trainers I can find and read all the medical stuff. I read everything about the science of exercise I could get my hands on. But then I talked to a lot of really, really experienced trainers around the country and so the book is a combination of the science of exercise. And these are the science I’m not so sure. But, some stuff that we should all be aware of along with the practical tips and it’s the practical tips I think that makes the difference between somebody who succeeds at this and doesn’t succeed.
Lisa: Oh, I think so too. And it is such a great guide. In the book you have I love this, How Getting Fit is Different When You Are Older. Number 1: You finally have more time to vote. 2: There is shortage of motivation. 3: It’s about how your body works, not how it looks. And you go on and on and you know I mentioned that earlier and I think it’s so important, you know my father-in-law is 84 and he has gone to a baseball fantasy camp for the last seven years and he is going again this year with my brother-in-law and he plays with guys half his age for a week. And he rides his bike and it is so important. He is 84. Now Jim I have to ask. How old are you now?
Jim: Well I will be if I make it another week or so, I will be 77 on October 20.
Lisa: Alright. Oh, you’re going to make it.
Jim: I’m in the best shape of my life. That’s all I can say.
Lisa: See, that’s so exciting.
Jim: Well, your father-in-law is the inspiration. I mean that’s wow. That’s an amazing. I love stuff like this.
Lisa: Yeah, but see he’s always been active. Like he was athletic growing up.
Jim: and I wasn’t. I was a couch potato.
Lisa: Yeah, and that’s see the message I think is so important Jim, is the fact that you were a couch potato and now you are not. Because there are so many people like oh, but I was never into sports, I was never athletic and this and that. I was like the least athletic person ever. I didn’t start doing anything until late high school, I realized I was good at swimming and then I got into fitness and health at that point. But it is never too late to start and you know your book is perfect.
Jim: And that’s the message. It is never too late to start.
Lisa: Yeah, because it takes you through everything that you want to go through. I mean I’m going to read some of this table of contents. I mean you have got how to succeed at fitness, functional fitness, five facets of functional fitness, flexible step by step fitness program, there’s great stuff. Let’s talk about functional fitness. For people who don’t know. What does that mean?
Jim: Well functional fitness is such a simple thing. It just means being physically able to handle all your normal day to day activities without aches and pains. It is just being able to move through your normal daily life and that when you are 20 or 30 or 40; you kind of chuckle. But when you get to 60 or 70; you realize, I have got to put away this bag of groceries and I’m having a hard time reaching up on a shelf. Or I just dropped something on the floor, I can’t even bend down to pick it up. So, all this. I have a grandchild, I would like to be able to hold in my arms. It is hard to do that. So, it is just real, simple. It has nothing to do with the old Arnold Schwarzenegger. It has nothing to do with the old body building culture. This is more just able being able to function day by day with minimal or no aches and pains. Someone who says Jim, gosh you look great, you’re trim. Yeah, but the main thing is my aches and pains are gone. No back pain. What’s that worth? Money could never replace that. Not in my book.
Lisa: Yeah. No, you are so right. My mother used to always say health is everything because she had a lot of health problems and so she knew. Getting back into the – you have five facets of functional fitness. Core stability and strength, flexibility, balance, muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance and what is so great in the book, is you give ways for us to do all of these things.
Jim: Well, and I think you can do all five, I call them dimensions, in one hour a day, five or six days a week. And Lisa, someone says gee, I don’t have that kind of time. We are talking about 4% of a 24-hour day. Now if you are raising a family and you are building a career; it can be hard to squeeze this in. But, when you reach my age, let’s say you are 60, 65 years of age; let’s make priority. Let’s make exercise a priority. And that is what I did. That was the number one thing I did. I said, this is my priority is to be as healthy as I can as long as I can. And I picture this Lisa as fighting off old age. And in the morning, when I wake up; the first thing I do, my wife rolls her eyes. I get out of bed and I do about a minute or two of shadow boxing. And she says, what are you doing? I said, sweetie; I’m fighting off old age. I said, someday this sucker is gonna win, but it aint going to be today. And then I smile it just makes my day. It just means, just move. It doesn’t matter what you do.
Lisa: You know, I wanted to mention you have a great smile and you do look incredible. In the book, you have five basic exercises everyone should do. You have got the plank, the squat, the lat pull down, the lunge and the push up.
Jim: And I bet you do all five of those.
Lisa: Yes, I do. Talk to us about – except for the lunge right now because of my knee but let’s talk about these. Because what’s nice is none of these, need equipment except if you want to do it on a bench with the plank or if you want to us a ball on the squat, except for the lat pull down. But the other ones you can do without equipment. I’m a big fan of body weight exercises so that is where there are no excuses.
Jim: Well, that’s funny, we are on the same wavelength. I’m the same way. I walk into a gym and there’s a big line of machines and you know who put the machines in there? The folks that sell the machines. Oh, I didn’t realize that. Sure, they design the gym and nobody uses half of them. And if they did; it’s a mistake. Because it can lead to repetitive stress and so I’m a big believer in dumb bells, love the TRX, there is a lot of body weight stuff. So, my – the one that turned my life around was the plank.
And I didn’t know what core meant to be honest with you. And I thought core referred to your six pack. And the more I read I said wow, no the core is comes from your lower part of your body that’s your thighs up through your chest, front and back. And so, if your core is weak, and that was my problem, I had a weak core; you have aches and pains. It’s that simple. And so, I would guess, for the first year or so, maybe two, a third of my workouts with core, so plank – and it is only takes Lisa as you know, it only take ten minutes of core work and more than that just diminishing returns. If you can just do core work three days a week for ten minutes, that’s all it takes. You will be surprised as time goes by, how much stronger your core is. And so all of the sudden; my core – I’ll compete with somebody who is 30 years old in my core. Not my upper body strength; but in the core. That’s because I have worked on it so long.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s true and that’s going to enable you to do the other things that you want to do.
Jim: Yeah, exactly, a weak core, you are not going to be able to do any of the other stuff. You can’t do strength training or anything else. Then of course, this flexibility; and the older you get, the tighter you get and so when I started out Lisa, what I did was for the first three or four months; I simply did walking and stretching. And I can remember it like it was yesterday, on day one Lisa, I walked maybe five minutes. That’s all I could do. I was hurting. And the next day, maybe I walked three minutes. And then the next day ten. But over about a month or so; this became a habit and one of the keys of sticking with an exercise program is making it into a habit.
If you try and rely upon willpower or discipline or say I’m only going to work out when I feel good. Me, I work-out if I feel like crap, pardon my French. And I have never once, not once in seven years have I left the gym that I didn’t feel better than when I started out. Say well, I’ll just do twenty minutes today. Twenty minutes go by, well maybe I’ll do another five minutes, what the heck. Then all of the sudden, it’s another ten minutes. It is just amazing how your body reacts when you move and so I did it with walking and stretching and then after about three or four months; I said gosh I feel so much better. What’s the next step?
And so, I got into some strength training. And that to me, doesn’t equate to Arnold Schwarzenegger lifting you know, trying to bench press three or four hundred pounds. Can you imagine even thinking that way? To me it meant doing stuff like pushups. Okay. I’m a big pushups fan. And I don’t think there is any exercise that is going to be more beneficial to more people than doing a pushup. They say, I hate pushups. Well, there is a reason why you hate them. It’s because you are putting your body in positions that are not comfortable. It’s because you have got imbalances and weaknesses. So, again, I could not do one pushup on my first day with the trainer. And it just took time. And I’m not saying it was easy, but just you know in week three or four I was doing maybe three of them and over time I got to about twenty-five. And then I started progressing and adding difficulty and so. I think a pushup is critical. And the neat thing about this is as you well-know, you can regress. You can do them on your knees at first if you need to.
Lisa: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s how I had to do them at first as well and still sometimes.
Jim: Sure, there is nothing wrong with that.
Lisa: Like if I over-swam or did something else. You know what I recently started doing, which I used to do a lot if yoga. That’s another wonderful thing. I mean that is intense.
Jim: My trainer, after about two years of working out with my trainer, said Jim, you need to do yoga. And maybe check out Pilates. So, I do a combination of yoga, Pilates and what I call movement one afternoon a week. No big deal, but yoga I would recommend everyone who is over 50 needs to do some kind of yoga. Tai Chi, yoga, whatever. You and your husband can do it together. It is so much fun. So, I make exercise fun. This for me has never been a chore. I just look for the fun part. The fun for me is working out with my wife, do be honest about it.
Lisa: Oh, that’s good. So, you got her – now was she into it at all before you?
Jim: No, no.
Lisa: Okay, so it’s new to both of you.
Jim: Not at all. And my wife of 49 years whose name is Stanya, S-T-A-N-Y-A. She would be embarrassed if I told you this. She grew up and her parents and her grand mom said it’s not lady like to exercise.
Lisa: Ah, boy.
Jim: So, they would not, literally, they would not let Stanya do any of this stuff. And I mean now of course we have a daughter now who is 33 and she is one of the most athletic kids you have ever seen in your life and was from day one. But it’s just so funny, so her family, you know kind of old-fashioned, traditional said this is not lady-like. They would say horses sweat and women shine. That is what she used to say in the old days.
Lisa: Oh my goodness.
Jim: Oh yeah, it was terrible.
Lisa: Well your daughter must be so thrilled that you are doing this great work.
Jim: Oh, she is thrilled and she is 5 feet tall and from the time she was three or four years old; she could compete against boys in anything. And the boys you know huffed and puffed, oh I’m out of breath and she said come on. Don’t be a sissy. So, she – she would try anything.
Lisa: Oh that is so great.
Jim: Isn’t that neat? She is such an example. I’m so proud of her and just a good young lady and she has kept at this stuff and she loves the gym. She also loves to run, which I don’t do anymore. But she loves it. And she’ll go on 6, 7, 8 mile run and I said, I feel sorry for the poor boy who ends up with you. He better be an athlete.
Jim: And she said darn right. I wouldn’t date a boy who is out of shape.
Lisa: Well it is good that she started young, right. But again, the big message, the takeaway is it is never too late to start. You know I want to jump back in the book, because I’m really impressed. So, in part one, you have what everyone over 50 should know. Part two, you have a flexible step by step fitness program and that’s what is so great, because you have the building strength and then eventually you have the advanced to a full body workout. Which is great. Talk to us a little bit about that.
Jim: Well, and the thing I want to stress Lisa, to your audience is that nobody says you have to go through all four steps. So, if all you want to do is walk and stretch; your body is going to thank you, you are going to feel better and you are going to look better over time. I would encourage you to check out doing the other stuff, but you don’t really have to. In my case, I felt so much better from doing walking and stretching, I was just drawn to the next thing and I could have stopped there. There’s a big difference between getting fit and staying fit. It took me Lisa, I don’t know how long it took you, but it took me probably three or four years to actually get fit. And it was hard work. Staying fit is a lot of fun and one of the keys to staying fit, is good nutrition. And so, I would tell you that right now given my body type will I be any stronger in two or three years? I don’t think that’s realistic. If I can just stay where I am as long as I watch what I eat, and I’m careful about it; I’m going to be okay. And so, this eating stuff, I cannot stress too much. You cannot out exercise a bad diet is what it comes down to.
Lisa: Oh, that is so true.
Jim: So, I think people who get into weight lifting, one of the reason people are strength training and resistance training, Lisa one reason that they hesitate is they have an image of “killing themselves” or gee that’s just not me. And it’s not about how much you can lift, it’s not about whatever Lisa, you can do and your husband can do, I’m going to compete. No, you are competing against yourself, not against anybody else. So, when I say I can do 50 pushups, I don’t really care what someone else does. I’m sure that there are people that can do 100, not me because I don’t want to hurt my shoulders.
So, it’s a journey and not a destination. There is no finish line to it. But once you get into it and you see how much better you feel; I just cannot imagine somebody saying okay, that’s it, I’m good enough, I’m going to go back in my old ways. I cannot conceive of that. But again, I was in terrible shape when I started out. So, that’s it. So, I’m just grateful for what live has dealt me so far and my goal is to again is to fight off old age. I have said many times, to my wife Stanya, there are people who are 80 who look 60 and people who are 60 who look 80. I want to be in that first group.
Lisa: Yes, that is true.
Jim: I want to be 80 years young like I think your father-in-law is.
Lisa: Yeah. You look incredible. I’m looking in the book and you have this great, the workout and you say intent in capital letters is a good word to describe the hour I spent working out with Josh Biard in the Four Seasons functional fitness studio. We did the bridge, plank, lunge, pushup, wide grip pull-up, one-legged squat. You got some great triceps going on there. You are doing your pushup on the BOSU ball.
You look great.
Jim: The one I’m the most proud of Lisa, is that Swiss ball doing the plank and that’s not with your ankles, that’s easier. It is your toes on the Swiss ball and your hands on a small rubber ball. And it’s hard. And I have been doing this now for I guess about five years and it’s still hard. But that’s one of the primary core exercises I do and I don’t recommend that you listeners try it. But and I’m probably getting carried away, but it’s – this whole thing has been a fun experience and it’s finding the fun that really kind of keeps you going. I’m always asked about Jim, how do you stay motivated month after month, year after year? And for me, it’s easy. And what I realized Lisa early on, is that motivation follows action and that’s what people get wrong. It’s the action comes before the motivation. Not afterwards. And so, if you work out, doesn’t matter the intensity, you’re gonna get motivated because you work out. That’s the message. That’s been my experience.
Lisa: That makes so much sense. Jim, tell us all the ways we can find this fantastic book of yours.
Jim: Well, I’m a big fan of the independent bookstores, in fact one of my clients in the old days was the National Booksellers’ Association. I’m a big fan of independent bookstores. But, the truth is, we live in a world where dominated by some of the big guys and so I have to say check out your – the best bookstore whether it is Barnes and Noble, independent guys, but at the end of the day, a lot of the book sales in my case are coming from Amazon and Lisa if I can just brag for a second, okay.
This book came out September 12th and would you believe, on Amazon, we are the number one best-selling book in its category. And the category that we wanted be in, by the way and this is played by National Geographic, if you have never done a book anything like this. And they are the ones that got us in the right category. The category is exercise and fitness for aging. This is not a book aimed at 20, 30 or even 40-year olds. What’s interesting is a lot of book sales are coming from people who are buying it for their parents or grandparents. And I hear this every day, Jim I just bought a copy of your book Just Move! for my mother, who is not doing very well, who sits around all day. And I said Mom you gotta do something. Just Move! And so, I love that and that’s what gets me inspired. So, the books doing great and I just urge people to look at it and I’ll tell you one more thing. National Geographic would never have done this unless it was sourced, so they would not accept any opinion, any fact without saying okay Jim, that’s great, experts say this or that. What experts? So, we had to source every single sentence, every single paragraph.
Lisa: Jim, this has been such thrill. I’m so glad you came on the program. Again, the book is Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50. Give us your website.
Jim: And the website which I am very proud of is www.justmoveforlife.com . Lisa, thank you so much and I really felt so compatible with you because of your own experiences and I hope your knee gets better.
Lisa: Yeah, me too. But it will. I just have bursitis. I know, I really miss – I haven’t been able to do as much and it has been really hard. But I know I will get back to it.
Jim: Thanks Lisa. Thank you so much.
This episode of Talk Fitness was produced by The Vitamin Shoppe where trusted health enthusiasts help you thrive every day. Visit one of 800 stores across the country or head to www.vitaminshoppe.com for all your wellness needs.