There won’t be many women celebrating their 75th birthday by ziplining through a canyon, but I have whitewater rafting, skydiving, and skydiving on my bucket list for future birthdays.
It’s hard to believe I’ve become the daredevil of the family, but over the past six years I’ve changed my body and my outlook, and it’s given me a whole new zest for life.
At 70, I weighed over 14, with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, terrible insomnia, acid reflux, ankles so swollen my legs looked like stumps, and painful arthritis in my knees. I had resigned myself to a downward spiral into old age and, like my mother, ended up in a nursing home.
I never imagined that I would turn into a fitness fanatic with 1.7 million followers on Instagram.
At age 70, Joan MacDonald weighed over 14th, with conditions such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, terrible insomnia, and acid indigestion. She has now turned her life around
But here I am, 76 years old, off all meds. I am 5th lighter, with strong and defined muscles, a flat stomach, shapely legs I never knew I had. And I don’t even think about wearing tight-fitting Lycra leggings and crop tops (not just at the gym), and even posting bikini pics on social media.
I’m thrilled that my transformation has created such a buzz – and I love how my photos and videos inspire others to get fit and strong.
I found social media awkward at first – the technology brought me to tears of frustration – but people soon started communicating, and I chatted back, and then someone said I was “influencing” them. I thought, really?
I was so excited to reach 1000 followers, but things have grown so fast that I’m struggling to keep up. I spend a few hours a day chatting online, answering questions and cheering people on.
76 years old and off all medication. Joan is 5th lighter, with strong and defined muscles, a flat stomach, shapely legs
I love reading the uplifting stories of people I’ve inspired, often much younger than me. When you feel so loved, it’s easy to give it back, and the love and support just keeps growing.
Honestly, I only started lifting weights because my daughter Michelle told me to.
And very honest? She saved my life.
Michelle, 51, and her husband, Jean, 41, are competitive bodybuilders and fitness coaches. When Michelle came to visit and saw me trudging up the stairs one by one, she told me to join her online course.
I was hesitant at first — feeling miserable, unwell, and thinking it might be too late for me — but eventually I gave in and started doing three workouts a week and one yoga session to increase the range of motion in my joints.
It wasn’t easy, but I was determined to get rid of the cocktail of drugs I used for all my ailments. And it was hugely rewarding to discover that I actually had muscle hiding under the layers of fat that had built up over the decades.
Joan is living proof that you are never too old, never too sick and never too fat to change course
As I got fitter and stronger, Michelle increased the intensity of the exercises and added new challenges (like the pull-up bar, can you imagine?) gym sessions per week (mixing strength training, cardiovascular work, and stretching).
I may only be 5ft 7in tall, but I can push 300lbs on the leg press and a 200lb bar for hip thrusts – more than many fit young men.
I’ve read repeatedly that people who do strength training plus cardiovascular exercise (such as running or cycling) have the greatest health benefits — and research shows that strength training can help reduce your mortality rate by as much as 40 percent.
I’m in the gym every morning and it’s the best part of my day. The work I do is just for maintenance and because I absolutely love how it makes me feel. I couldn’t have achieved this transformation without also making radical changes to the way I eat.
I’ve been on a yo-yo diet for most of my life, but only gained weight until Michelle taught me the importance of eating protein (fish, meat, or eggs) with every meal, and switching from three to five or six small meals a day.
Canada is my home, where the winters are very harsh, so I know how difficult it can be to motivate yourself to keep up with your fitness regime when it’s cold and dark outside.
I used to be a terrible hibernator, snuggling indoors and rarely going out. But that’s no way to live. You can’t sit around and wish for a change in your life, you have to make it come true.
The great thing is that you don’t need an expensive gym membership or a personal trainer. You can do so much at home, without fancy equipment, as long as you have some form of expert guidance through an online course or app.
I am living proof that you are never too old, never too sick and never too heavy to change things. You just need to believe in your own potential and get to work. You’ll be amazed at what you can do if you just put your mind to it. If I can do it at seventy, anyone can do it.
Big changes like mine only come as a result of daily triumphs over negativity and old habits. Every day I have to recommit myself to my new habits and my new attitude, but damn, it’s worth it!
- Follow @trainwithjoan on Instagram or download her training app: Train with Joan ($19.99 per month). Her book, Flex Your Age: Defy Stereotypes And Reclaim Empowerment is out now, £20, DK, via amazon.co.uk.
Now is the time to be more Joan in your own home
Try this simple set of exercises to get started with weight training. You don’t need any equipment, just focus on doing it slowly and correctly. If it feels easy, increase the challenge with more reps or by adding hand weights or resistance bands.
1. Shelf shoulder taps
This exercise helps build your shoulder, wrist, and abdominal strength, as well as endurance.
Stand 5 feet away from a kitchen surface and place your hands on the counter, shoulder-width apart. Brace your body in a strong straight line from shoulder to heel. Pull your stomach in and lift hand-to-hand, tapping the opposite shoulder. Don’t let your body spin.
Increase the difficulty by using a lower surface, such as a chair seat, taking your feet away to maintain your straight line. As you get stronger, lower the incline until you can plank with your hands and feet on the floor.
2. Sumo Squats
Help strengthen the powerful muscles of the buttocks and thighs and increase flexibility in the hips. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out. Contract your abs, tighten your buttocks and lower your buttocks down, spreading your knees wide and keeping your back very straight, aiming to get your buttocks in line with your knees.
Keep your glutes tight and stand back up. Build up the number and depth of your squats over time.
3. Dead insects
This strengthens the abdominal and back muscles and helps improve balance and coordination. Lie on your back. Tighten your abs and flatten your back on the floor. Raise your legs and arms (in an inverted “hands and fours”).
Slowly and with control (don’t let your ribs pop out or arch your back), lower one heel to the floor and drop the opposite arm behind your head. Return to the starting position and switch sides.
If this feels too easy, try with one leg straight, or lower all four limbs at once.