Shaquille O'Neal Opens Up About How Exercise Helped Him Following Kobe Bryant's Death

The NBA legend recently teamed up with Novex Biotech and Authentic Brands Group to represent the brand’s line of men’s performance products

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Shaquille O'Neal is determined to have a better year than 2020.

It was nearly 12 months ago that his former teammate, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, died in a helicopter accident along with eight other victims, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Bryant and O'Neal won three consecutive NBA titles on the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 to 2002 and spent two more seasons together before the Hall of Fame center was traded to the Miami Heat.

The loss of Bryant was devastating to O'Neal, who says the tragedy took an extreme toll on him as he was also dealing with the deaths of other loved ones, including his sister, Ayesha Harrison-Jex.

"With all that was going on and first my sister passed away, then Kobe passing away, and about 28 other people passing away, I just didn't want to do anything," the 48-year-old tells PEOPLE. "I realized I wasn't feeling or looking my best. So I said, 'You know what? Time to make a change.'"

In order to make that change, O'Neal began exercising and changing his diet to help him slim down. Eventually, the 7-footer lost a whopping 40 pounds, going from 415-pounds down to 375 this year.

"I want to be chiseled. I want to be chiseled, I want to be tight," he says. "The goal is to get to 350 and be chiseled like a rock."

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal. Rich Fury/Getty

Along the way, O'Neal was introduced to Novex Biotech and their line of men's performance products, which they claim can help "combat the effects of aging." O'Neal quickly partnered with the company as a brand ambassador.

"I was taking them and I was working out because my goal was to optimize my health and get back to feeling my best," he says. "I was looking at everybody else and what everybody else was taking. You got people saying, 'take this and take that,' but they didn't look how I wanted to look. I just did research out on the internet, and when I saw [their products] combat the effects of aging, I was like, 'Let me try.' And I did it every day."

"I was gaining muscle, I was losing weight, and I was having more energy and I was sleeping better," he adds. "And then one day, after getting out the shower, I was like, 'Is that a six-pack?' I saw it. I was like, 'Wow.'"

O'Neal — a studio analyst on Inside the NBA — says he is in a better place today physically and emotionally than he was last year, and taking care of his body has played a large part in the improvement. According to a 2018 study from the Journal of Affective Disorders, there is evidence that exercise has "a favorable effect" on mood, regardless of duration and recovery period.

RELATED VIDEO: Kobe Bryant Is Still Inspiring Shaquille O'Neal to 'Reach Out' to Other Retired NBA Players

O'Neal also received some extra motivation to get into shape when he came across an older man on Instagram who seemed to have the body of someone decades younger than him.

"This guy had to be in his seventies. He looked like a He-Man doll and I got jealous," O'Neal recalls. "His caption said, 'Age is nothing but a number.' The guy was in the gym and he had a six-pack — actually had a 12-pack. He was an older guy, he had the gray Santa Claus beard and I was like, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"

Seeing the older man also gave O'Neal a dream to aim for in the future.

"My new goal," he says, "is to take my shirt off on Instagram one day."

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