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Fitness Influencer Joan MacDonald: It’s Not Too Late to Embrace a Healthier Life

The 75-year-old social media sensation and author shares thoughts on the power of changing your outlook

By Lisa B. Samalonis

Seventy-five-year-old Joan MacDonald transformed her body and life over the last five years — going from overweight and on several medications to drug-free and fit with a muscular physique. In the process, she became an Instagram fitness influencer. 

An older woman smiling outside. Next Avenue, Flex your Age, Joan MacDonald
Joan MacDonald  |  Credit: @trainwithjoan/Instagram

She and her daughter Michelle MacDonald, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and chef, are coauthors of "Flex Your Age: Defy Stereotypes & Reclaim Empowerment."

Joan, who lives in Canada and Mexico, said her daughter suggested she "take her on as a client" when she saw the then 70-year-old was out of breath climbing stairs. Michelle, leader of The Wonder Women online training program, and her husband, Jean-Jacques Barrett, are owners of Tulum Strength Club.

Turning Point

"My body was breaking down," said Joan, who had edema, low energy, and was on numerous medicines for arthritis, high blood pressure and acid reflux

"I had to have a conversation with myself: You are not happy with life; you need to change."

"I had to have a conversation with myself: You are not happy with life; you need to change," Joan said, adding she knew that Michelle had improved her own health and the lives of many others. Working with her daughter, Joan became stronger, healthier and more energetic.

Despite the TrainwithJoan Instagram page, where she posts her workouts and meals, having more than 1.7 million followers, she doesn't consider herself a celebrity. "People can relate to me. I am not super beautiful. I am very ordinary, so they don't find me unapproachable," she said.

In August 2019, she posted a video of doing 225-pound hip thrusts. "The page gained followers after that," she said with a chuckle. Joan noted how much fitness matters. "I enjoy life much better, especially when I can move around with more agility," she said.

She added that getting fit is worth it because your body and outlook change, and you have much more energy to do the things you want.

Mind and Body Book

"Flex Your Age" is not filled with meal plans and exercise workouts. Instead, the book includes their personal stories, how Joan shifted her mindset to a long-term healthier lifestyle, and also steps for readers to do it. 

It focuses on fitness fundamentals (like building muscle), getting help (with a trainer or a coach), mindful nutrition (following a macro-based diet), handling disruptions and finding a supportive community. 

Next Avenue, Flex your Age, Joan MacDonald
"I never let my age factor in trying to do this. Some people think you must be a certain way as you age. But why can't we be what we want to be? We are not hurting anybody, and we are making ourselves healthier."  |  Credit: @trainwithjoan/Instagram

Joan MacDonald shared with Next Avenue key takeaways from "Flex Your Age" and her outlook on living a healthy life.

(The following interview has been edited for clarity and length).

Next Avenue: What advice do you give people concerned about their health but who don't know where to start?

Joan MacDonald: Start by getting up and moving. As we get older, we tend to believe the myth that once you reach 40, forget it. But that is not true. Michelle proved it through me and through all the other lifestyle transformations of women in her group. 

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People should only jump into some things at a time. Take it slow to avoid injury. Are you in a hurry? This is the rest of your life we are talking about. Let it just come as you are learning. Don't expect miracles in the beginning.

Did you ever get discouraged?

Yes. My worst problems with motivation were during the first year. I wanted to be done. I didn't realize there was no 'done.' It's a change you make in your whole life. It's just how you do things now. When I don't feel like working out — those feelings are fleeting. 

Once I get to the gym and do my warmups, it changes my whole persona. Also, I have stubbornness in me. I wanted to please my family, like my daughter and her husband, because they were giving a lot to me by just taking me on as a client. 

"So I had to work for it. I had to see results because someone else had faith in me."

So I had to work for it. I had to see results because someone else had faith in me.

This has been a progression for you over the last five years. Are there some days you still don't feel like working out?

Yes, even if I don't want to start, by the time I am finished, I feel like, 'Hey, I did it! I accomplished something.' I prefer to work out first thing in the morning, so I have the rest of the day to do what I must. 

It is only sometimes what I want to do, but it is attached to this lifestyle. If I am sick and don't work out, I feel like something is missing from my day. 

Although I have wanted to quit several times, I can't because these people (online and at the gym) keep telling me I have given them hope, so I have to be there for them.

Your Instagram is inspirational. You seem to be happy and enjoying your life.

I only had Instagram in November of 2017. Michelle opened up this platform for me so I could give other people a boost and get myself out of myself. Before I started, I was becoming more of a hermit. I didn't think anyone would read anything I had to say on Instagram. 

We have built a community through Instagram and the app. I read the comments and responded. The people in the community are phenomenal, and they are right there supporting each other. 

These lifestyle changes are not going to come naturally. You have to work for it. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.

How will the book help readers?

A woman flexing her arm muscles. Next Avenue, Flex your Age, Joan MacDonald
Credit: Joan MacDonald

It gives insight into how to get going, what is required of you and how to handle it. The book touches on your mindset, what you eat and drink, how you sleep, if you are doing meditation, stretching — all those things combine to make you whole. 

You have to have a goal. It doesn't have to be a huge one. Some people start with assisted exercises because they can only move some. The book gives hope but tells you to be patient. You are changing all this to live better.

Did you think you were too old to make this change?

I never let my age factor in trying to do this. Some people think you must be a certain way as you age. But why can't we be what we want to be? We are not hurting anybody, and we are making ourselves healthier.

How are you now?

Much better. That first year, I got off the medications with my doctor monitoring me slowly. I wouldn't say I liked taking pills, so that was great. I have a lot of energy and do weight training and cardio, like swimming and biking.

How have you changed your diet?

Before, I only ate two or three meals a day. Now I have five smaller meals with balanced macros. I keep my food simple because I don't want to cook all the time. 

When I do prep, it is usually for three days of meals. Then, I get the food ready, so I can grab something out of the fridge, weigh it out, and put it together in one bowl.

Any final thoughts or advice?

Try not to get so discouraged when things don't work out exactly how you want them to — just pivot. You will be disappointed along the way; there is no escaping from that. That's life, but don't let it rule you. 

Enjoy every moment you can, get the most out of it, and when bad things come, you can shove them aside. Just keep trying and doing what you want to do. Don't say you can't have it. You deserve love and laughter in your life, which doesn't end when you're 40 or 50. 

You can have joy and happiness until the day you die.

Lisa B. Samalonis
Lisa B. Samalonis is a writer and editor based in New Jersey. She writes about health, parenting, books, and personal finance. Read More
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