When Joan MacDonald started lifting weights at 70, she had no idea how it would change her life.
Four years later, five stone lighter and with nearly a million followers on social media, she is on a mission to prove that fitness is for everyone.
In December 2016, 70-year-old Joan MacDonald had been dealing with a litany of health issues. Suffering with painful arthritis and swollen ankles, she weighed 14st – putting her in the obese category for her 5ft 3in frame.
She had high blood pressure and acid reflux, and the only solution suggested by her doctor was more medication.
“I thought at my age, maybe this is the way it is,” says Joan, 74.
“I felt very negative about myself, and a little bit on the depressed side. I was looking after my mother, running back and forth to her nursing home and seeing how she was declining. I would think, ‘This is what’s in store for me.’”
Fast forward four years and Joan’s life could hardly be more different. And while losing the weight, she became a social media fitness sensation, now with 925,000 Instagram followers and nearly 50,000 YouTube subscribers.
She can also do chin-ups, works out with 28kg dumbbells and can hip thrust a 90kg barbell.
“My daughter Michelle is a personal trainer,” says Joan.
“She watched me going up and down stairs huffing and puffing like a train engine, and she was on the verge of tears. She said, ‘I can make you better than you are right now, but you have to do exactly as I say.’”
With Michelle’s help, Joan revolutionised her diet and began an exercise regime, exceeding her weight loss goal in just three months. Aside from the obvious health benefits, she was able to give up her medication entirely.
And Joan, who lives in Ontario, Canada, says getting fit has given her a new lease of life.
“I feel so much more confident. I even dress so much better. You can look at my pictures and see the difference in how I was and how I am now.
“That’s me coming out, finally. It seems like all my life I’ve been making do or settling for something I didn’t really want. Now, I’m going to do it to please me. I don’t think that’s overly selfish. I think it’s about time.”
Here, Joan shares her tips on getting fit at any age:
Where to start
When people ask me how to get fit, I say start off by moving – walking, running, biking, any movement that means you’re using energy. Ask your doctor for advice.
And make sure you find someone qualified, like a personal trainer, to tell you what you need to do in the gym.
Also make sure to stretch before and after exercise because it’s so easy to pull something or pick up an injury.
Dress for success
When I first went to the gym, I wore baggy clothes to hide myself. But if you’ve got a slim-fitting outfit on, you’re going to stand a little straighter.
A bit of lipstick helps confidence – I never used to wear any make-up but now I do. When you’re changing your lifestyle, you’ve got to gain that confidence as quickly as you can.
It’s so much better to have a companion to work out with. I had support from an online group, we’d encourage each other and shared photos which showed our progress.
Instagram helped, people were always so nice and I could talk to them, and my account just happened to grow.
Don't be shy
Don’t ever feel intimidated in the gym. People are concentrating on what they’re doing, they’re not looking at you.
I know the feeling – I thought the same thing – but it turns out, nobody’s interested in what you’re doing.
I work out seven days a week, with weights four to five times a week and cardio in between, something like riding a bike for an hour or gardening for a couple of hours.
It’s part of my life now. If I miss the gym, I feel like something’s not right with my day.
When you exercise, you’re speeding everything up. Your energy comes back too. If you don’t do anything, then you feel lethargic. It might sound weird, but it’s true.
Gives bones a lift
I can lift a heck of a lot more than I could when I started, and I’m four years older.
But I didn’t start the weights until the second month after I started working out. Build up slowly and work on your form with supervision.
I always do a 15-minute cardio warm-up first. I had my bone density measured for the first time in eight years recently and it was unchanged. I’m convinced lifting weights helped.
Eat more, weigh less
When I started with Michelle, she told me to eat five balanced meals a day with protein, carbs and good fats. It really got my metabolism going.
After working out for maybe a month and a half though, I was starting to get really hungry, so Michelle upped my calorie intake.
I’ve learned to cook healthily and I don’t eat junk food or drink alcohol. Since I started I’ve lost 5st and I’ve changed my whole physique.