83-Year-Old Credits His Fitness in Old Age to a ‘Cowboy Ethic’ of Never Giving Up

83-Year-Old Credits His Fitness in Old Age to a ‘Cowboy Ethic’ of Never Giving Up
Jim Owen, 83, encourages people to stay healthy in old age by regularly working out. (Tara Welch Photography)
Amy Denney
James P. Owen is more than a go-getter; he’s humble, honest, and has a message about integrity. For more than two decades, his books and speaking engagements—born out of his Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, a foundation that encourages American businesses to return to the cowboy code’s emphasis on courage, optimism, and work ethic—have focused on timeless principles: Know what you stand for and reach for the hero within. 
Mr. Owen, who had a late-in-life health transformation that taught him he can do anything he puts his mind to, finds integrity even in wellness, with his 2017 book Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50.” 
At 83, the inspirational author and speaker’s latest documentary film on aging, SuperAgers: Getting Old, Living Young, airs on PBS stations this fall. 
On his wakeup call to improve his health: A travel-heavy schedule left Mr. Owen 35 pounds overweight with back and knee pain. What motivated him to get off his couch was learning that most people who live to 70 have a greater chance of making it to 85. 
“I resolved then and there to get in shape, no matter what it took. I won’t pretend my first workouts were easy. I couldn’t do a single proper push-up—not one! But I like a challenge and, like most beginners, I saw results quickly.”
Within a few years, Mr. Owen found himself in the best shape of his life, doing three sets of 50 push-ups regularly.  
On the importance of fitness while aging: Besides preventing disease and feeling good, Mr. Owen preaches that exercise reduces aches and pains, improves mobility and independence, and generates energy. Because strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility tend to decrease with age, exercise is more important the older you get. Building lean muscle slows the aging process, he said, and core strength is vital for function and preventing falls. 
“I only wish I’d started at 40 or 50, rather than at 70. The good news is, it’s never too late. There’s always something you can do to improve your fitness and your health.”
(Black Swan Photographers)
(Black Swan Photographers)
On how integrity can impact physical health: “One aspect of integrity often overlooked is honesty with yourself. Integrity includes taking responsibility for our own health.”  
That includes a realistic daily action plan and a solid support system. “I put all my workouts on my calendar, so they’re commitments to myself. Because I’ve struggled to lose weight in the past, I also keep a daily journal where I record my weight and everything I eat—and I mean everything. These routines have helped me stick with my program for thirteen years, and counting.” 
Health essentials that we should all be doing daily: Exchange bad habits for good ones, he said. Enjoy daily activity, be mindful about eating nutritious food, learn new techniques for reducing stress, cut back on news consumption, and practice good sleep hygiene. These and tending to mental and spiritual health are what set ordinary people apart from what Mr. Owen calls “SuperAgers,” people over 70 who act far younger. 
“What really sets them apart is their positivity, their humor, and their openness to new ideas and experiences. They show us how rich life can be when you look at aging as an adventure.”
Mr. Owen often works out with his wife Stanya.
Mr. Owen often works out with his wife Stanya.
How “Just Move” helps readers take charge of their future: “Just Move” is an action guide for readers who want to change for themselves, not because a doctor or spouse said so. The book focuses on functional and pain-free movement with a step-by-step approach. “The book shows how to structure a program that works for you, centering on just five basic exercises you can adapt to your strength level and dial up as you progress. As my story shows, you can transform your body, and your life, if you’re willing to give it an hour a day, five or six days a week.” 
On what it means to search for the hero within: Heroism is nothing dramatic or large-scale, but rather an everyday act of service and sacrifice, Mr. Owen said. “Talking about heroes always makes me think of my dad. He wasn’t wealthy or powerful. He was a quiet, modest man, a dentist in Lexington, Kentucky. But he was respected by all as a man of unshakable character. When he walked into a room, everybody stood up a little straighter. He will always be my biggest hero—the kind of man I strive to be.” 
On whether the code of the West is becoming more prominent in American culture: Our divided society shows us it’s more important than ever, Mr. Owen said. “These times also bring to mind one of the ten principles of the Code of the West—‘Do what has to be done.’ When confronting big problems, you can’t go halfway or give up when your attempts fail. You’ve got to cowboy up and go the distance.”
Amy Denney is a health reporter for The Epoch Times. Amy has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield and has won several awards for investigative and health reporting. She covers the microbiome, new treatments, and integrative wellness.
Related Topics