It may be hard to believe, but Richard Simmons is 62. His enthusiasm for fitness and helping others keeps him young, even after 35 years in the fitness business. His mission remains encouraging people to lose weight and live healthier lives—even health club owners.

“You know what I’ve found with the fitness industry and how paradoxical this is?” Simmons asks. “A lot of people who own gyms, who are in the fitness industry, they, too, need to be inspired.”

Simmons plans to inspire delegates during his Club Industry 2010 keynote address at 10 a.m. on Oct. 7 at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago. He’ll even bring some audience members onstage to work out with him.

“I’m going to run in the room and greet everybody to music,” Simmons says of his keynote address. “And I’m going to do a little warm-up. And then I actually bring groups of people on the stage. We’ll do a couple of minutes onstage with each group. It’s lots of fun, and it gets everyone involved.”

After the quick workout, Simmons plans to discuss his history in the fitness industry and talk about his club, Slimmons, in Beverly Hills, CA.

“Everything happened to me when I opened that club,” he says. “I got ‘General Hospital’ from that club, I got the ‘Richard Simmons Show,’ I got my DVDs, my videos, my books. All the people that I met walking through the doors of Slimmons helped create who I am today.”

NEXT PAGE: SIMMONS' PERSONAL CRUSADE

Listen to a short podcast of part of the interview with Richard Simmons.

Personal Crusade

His life’s work is personal to Simmons, who remembers weighing 200 pounds as an eighth-grader in New Orleans. The target of childhood bullies, he now encourages others to look beyond what’s on the outside and focus on what’s inside a person to see what matters.

“All kids should be taught to not only respect themselves but to respect everybody,” he says. “Kindness can rule the world. And so I work on talking to kids about trying to respect each other and that we all come in different shapes and sizes and we have to get along. Because if the kids are not getting along at this early age, can you imagine when they grow up? It’s not going to be pretty.”

For the past three years, Simmons has supported the Fit Kids Act, a bill in Congress that would bring physical education classes back into schools “in a big way,” he says. Several national organizations also support the bill, including the American Heart Association, Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. PE class may be the only place kids today get any exercise, Simmons notes.

“There’s a 90 percent chance that once they leave school, they’re not going to work out,” he says. “It’s the Game Boys and the Twittering and the flip videos and Internet games, and then it’s time for dinner.”

In addition to better PE classes, Simmons says nutrition education also needs to be a focus for school children. He says that school lunch menus have degraded into mainly processed food items as a result of budget cuts in many districts, and he says that sends the wrong message to kids about nutrition.

“Nothing zaps your energy more than processed food,” he says. “It takes longer to digest and has no nutritional value. And unfortunately, that meal for many children is their biggest meal of the day because their parents are working. So that’s where they get their main nutrition, and look what we give them— inedible food.”

In addition to fast food and processed foods contributing to the obesity epidemic, the hectic pace of modern life that leaves little time for home-cooked meals also has contributed, he says.

“We live in a fast world,” he says. “Everything is fast in our world now—the Internet, dating, eating, fast food. Most people who are working, especially one or two jobs or a second or third shift, eat nothing but fast food, and they live on processed food. They don’t eat salads, they’re not eating spinach, they’re not using olive oil, they’re not eating fruit—a Pop Tart to them is a fruit portion. So it’s because of the lifestyle we lead now that has made us focus more on eating very badly.”

Teaching others to eat better is part of Simmons’ approach to weight loss. To support that effort, he created tools such as his Food Mover program, which he sells through his website to help people track calories throughout the day.

NEXT PAGE: MOTIVATION IS KEY

Caring Support

After more than three decades at the club, Simmons says his classes are busier now than ever before. Sometimes, 120 to 130 students attend the classes he teaches at Slimmons. He credits several online initiatives with the increased attendance. In addition to a Facebook and Twitter page, Simmons hosts an online clubhouse on his website that serves as a social networking support group for people trying to lose weight.

“It’s so strange, because of Twitter and Facebook and all this, I have never had classes this big,” he says. “Last Saturday, I had six girls that came to class who all brought their mothers to class who were from out of town, so this is the first time that they’d ever exercised or worked out with their parent. And it was kind of amazing, just to see all those faces and all the people trying hard and doing their best.”

Helping people achieve their goals is a big reason Simmons keeps teaching. The obesity epidemic and the recession also make him feel as if he should be there for people who are having a tough time staying healthy.

“Women write me that they have two and three jobs and they’re single parents. It’s hard,” he says. “And they’re trying to find a second job or they’re so busy they don’t have the time to [exercise]. But that’s why I keep going around and teaching classes all these years and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got to make time for this because, unfortunately, you can’t buy it, and no one can make time for you.’”

At the end of every class that he teaches, Simmons gives a motivational talk to get members thinking about their health goals and to help improve their self-esteem.

“At the club, we do stretching, push-ups, sit-ups, cardio, strength training and then motivation at the end—and I think that’s another reason people come back,” he says. “They always have a topic at the end of class. It could be ‘Tell me three acts of kindness that you’ve done so far in this month,’ or ‘What do you respect about yourself?’ [We have] all different kinds of questions for them to do as homework and start thinking, because thinking helps you get through your workout and helps you get through your salads.”

His sincere interest in helping people stay healthy is the basis of his success. On his website, Simmons talks about how he’s helped millions of people lose close to 3 million pounds over the years. His caring support system helps people find their own motivations, and in turn, achieve their goals.

“It’s just the power of unconditional love and caring—that’s what I’ve always preached for all these years,” he says. “Someone can know every portion of food, someone can own every piece of machinery, but if something doesn’t click in their mind, and if they don’t have true purpose for how they’re doing it, they won’t do it. Some people let it click, and some people just can’t get it going, but I’ve always believed people have one more try in them. They may have given up on themselves, but I never give up on these people because I feel like miracles have come into that studio.”

In fact, a recent article in Psychology Today praised the timeless, non-competitive nature of Simmons’ philosophy, attributing his club’s success to the man himself.

“The first person to open a fitness center that breeds acceptance rather than shame, Simmons has endured decades of fads because what he is selling isn’t a fad at all, but an attitude,” wrote author Sascha Rothchild in Psychology Today. “Love yourself enough to take care of yourself, which simply means eat healthy foods, break a sweat and allow exercise to be joyous.”

Simmons even finds time in his busy schedule to personally call students and pump up their motivation levels. He likes to call people who have fallen off the fitness wagon and encourage them to exercise, as well as congratulate those who reached a weight-loss goal.

“Oh, it’s a support system,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have support at home. My clubhouse on my website and my club are all about interacting and boosting people’s self-esteem—making them feel good about themselves so they can achieve things in other areas of their lives.”

Simmons learned early in his life that helping others also is a way to help himself.

“I was always raised in an environment of giving back,” he says, “and that’s helped me be who I am today.”