Jim Owen offers commonsense answers to frequently asked questions based on what he has learned through his own physical transformation.

I’ve always hated to exercise, but know I need to. What do you suggest?   

This brings up the point that fitness is as much a mental game as a physical one. Part of the problem is the word, “exercise.” For a lot of people, that automatically triggers an image of forcing ourselves to do something unpleasant, if not grueling.

My breakthrough came when I stopped thinking “exercise” and started thinking “movement.” If you don’t think movement can be fun, just watch kids at any playground. It’s not a matter of age, either. Watch a Zumba class full of 60- and 70-year-olds, and you’ll see people smiling, laughing, and having a blast as they move to a fast Latin beat.

Here’s another idea that worked for me: instead of thinking “I have to work out today,” I tell myself “I get to work out.” That makes me grateful to be as mobile and physically capable as I am; it also reminds me that I want to stay that way. Change just one word, and you have a completely different mind-set.

How do you stay motivated to keep exercising week after week?

I believe you have to rely on habit, instead of willpower, which you can’t count on to be there when you need it.

Science tells us it takes roughly four weeks or so to develop a new habit. So if you start a fitness program, hang in there. If you can stick with it for a few weeks, you’ll realize how good it feels to move and want to keep coming back for more.

I also find that getting results you can see and feel is the best motivator of all. When you start exercising after being inactive, those results tend to come pretty quickly. But sooner or later, just about everyone hits a plateau. If that happens to you, don’t get discouraged. Instead, try something different, or turn up the intensity a little. It also helps to vary your workouts so you keep things engaging and fresh.

I need to lose at least 20 pounds. What do you recommend?    

When it comes to losing weight, I don’t claim to be any kind of expert. I can only tell you what helped me drop 55 pounds from 205 to around 150 today.

Some years back, when I was at my peak weight, I signed up for an intensive, week-long program at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. There I learned that because your metabolism slows as you age, losing weight is difficult for almost everyone who’s older and overweight. They also taught me why fad diets don’t work, why it makes sense to choose “real foods” over the processed kind, the importance of portion control and all the other basics of healthy eating.

While I lost 30 pounds after that, I felt weak and had no energy. It took a while, but I figured out the problem: I wasn’t exercising, so I was losing muscle as well as fat. Once I combined healthy eating with exercise, I was able to drop that last 25 pounds.

I’ve also learned how to stay at this weight. I keep a food diary, and write down everything I eat. That helps me eat mostly lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits. And I “just say no” to certain things like rich sauces, heavy fried foods, and desserts loaded with sugar—although I do eat a little dark chocolate every day and a cookie or piece of pie now and then. Healthy eating is about smart food choices and moderation, not self-denial.

How can I get fit when I feel like I can barely move?

A lot of people feel they’re too old or too weak to even try. That’s sad, because it’s as if they’re giving up on life.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what shape you’re in now. You can improve your functional fitness, and feel better, too, as long as you focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

Think in terms of three simple steps: Start with a low bar. Give it your best effort. And then gradually raise the bar a little bit at a time.

I always recommend walking as a great way to begin a fitness program. It’s the most natural and universal exercise there is. Don’t worry about how long or how far you walk. Start with five minutes a day. Then gradually extend that time and pick up your pace. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel in just a few weeks. You might even be ready to branch out into regular flexibility or strength training.