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Sept. 30, 2020, 10:06 a.m. EDT

‘Anyone can make money.’ This retired Wall Street investor wants to motivate Americans to do something else: Get off the couch

After 30 years of no exercise while building a successful investment career, Jim Owen wants to show it’s never too late to become healthier

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By Wendy Helfenbaum

Havey Productions
James Owen, left, is the author of ‘The Prudent Investor’s Guide to Hedge Funds.’ He recently made a documentary film of success stories of individuals who overcame obstacles to find health through exercise later in life.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

Forget second acts. Jim Owen, who turns 80 on Oct. 20, is capitalizing on his third. His new documentary film, “The Art of Aging Well,” is the culmination of what he describes as his purpose and his legacy: Inspiring older adults to become healthier and more active.

“We’re experiencing a health care crisis that no one talks about, and it’s not the second wave of the pandemic: We are a nation of couch potatoes, and it’s literally killing us,” says Owen, who lives in San Diego.

The film ran on Wyoming PBS, Rocky Mountain PBS and will be available to PBS member stations through the  National Educational Telecommunications Association  starting Oct. 31.

In  a study  published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers predicted that nearly half of Americans will be obese by 2030. Owen adds that health experts have long known that being physically fit substantially  reduces the risk of serious chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and most of us have much more control over the aging process than we think.

Owen firmly believes that how we age is largely up to us: While we can’t help getting older, we don’t have to get old.

Driven to succeed

Growing up in Lexington, Ky., Owen played recreational football, basketball and baseball, and lifted weights, too, all in the shadow of his older brother, a star athlete. But after graduating from college, he spent the next 30-plus years doing no exercise at all as he built a successful investment career on Wall Street, including publishing the bestselling book, The Prudent Investor’s Guide to Hedge Funds.

“I got lucky; I was blessed and had a very rewarding career. But anyone can make money; it’s much harder to make a difference,” says Owen, who reinvented himself in 2003 as a motivational speaker and author of “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn From the Code of the West.”

“I don’t wear a cowboy hat and I’m kind of afraid of horses,” he admits. “But to me, the mythical cowboy was a construct: Every culture needs heroes, and when I grew up, cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry were mine.”

Owen’s advice about business and life sparked a movement, leading to two subsequent “Cowboy Ethics” business books, the launch of the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership nonprofit and hundreds of speaking engagements a year. It was while he crisscrossed the country on a whirlwind speaking tour in 2006 that Owen realized how weak, stiff, achy and tired he felt all the time.

The tipping point came when Owen watched a video of himself on his 70th birthday, looking haggard and pale. He had read that if you live to age 70, you’d likely live another 15 years. With no desire to spend those years in pain with no energy, he vowed to get in shape.

His body at 75: 10 years younger than his age

Applying the same determination that worked during his Wall Street days, Owen slowly took control of his health, beginning with daily 10-minute walks. Working with a professional trainer, he added on strength-building exercises and began eating healthier.

Related: Does your community have what it takes to help you live longer?

Many older adults worry they’ll get hurt by starting an exercise plan, and Owen discovered there are no shortcuts. He had briefly taken up running at 50 and injured both knees. After switching to weightlifting, he bench-pressed too much weight and was left with searing lower back pain that kept him up at night.

“The older you are, the more safety has to be the number one priority, and that means listening to your body,” says Owen, noting there’s a fine line between getting out of your comfort zone, progressing and going overboard.

“Don’t get overly ambitious, particularly if you’re older. Just chip away at it, and all the sudden you’ll look back and say, ‘I can’t believe how far I’ve come,’” he says

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