She shares her road to living a healthier life and how others can too.
- Posted on Jun 1, 2021
The 75-year-old who hails from Ontario, Canada, started hitting the gym regularly just a few years ago at age 70. Back then, MacDonald was out of shape and at a low point in her life.
“I was very unhappy at the time,” she tells Guideposts.org about her routine before she started prioritizing her health. “I didn't like where my life was going.” She was dealing with added pounds and a recent trip to the doctor only confirmed her fears that her health was declining.
“My medications weren't working,” she recalls. “My blood pressure was way too high, and I also have kidney issues. They wanted to up my medication, but I was just like, ‘No, I don't want more medication. There's no way I want more. There's got to be another way.’
After a particularly tough conversation with her daughter who’s also a personal trainer, MacDonald knew she needed to be the one to make a change. So, she got to work. More specifically, she got to working out.
In January of 2017, she flew down to Mexico where her daughter was hosting a kind of boot camp for women like her, hoping to shed some weight and feel their best. It’s there that the exercise maven learned how to document her journey on Instagram – an idea sparked by her daughter to keep her accountable once she flew back home.
“It was very grueling at the beginning because I had to learn the technical stuff as well as doing something phenomenal with my body,” MacDonald says of setting up her smartphone and creating a social media account. “I had to learn how to eat properly, how many meals to eat, and how to do my exercises, hoping that I got them done right.”
It was especially difficult because, while MacDonald was dealing with arthritis and swelling in her joints and all of the physical ailments that can accompany aging, she was also fighting against a generational mindset, one that didn’t look at exercise and eating healthy the same way we do now.
“I had thought about exercising but when I was growing up, we didn't have gyms that women could join or if they joined, they were different from everybody else, that's how they were thought of,” MacDonald explains. “I thought the gyms were for the guys.” She’d managed to stay active all these years and eat healthy by chasing after her children, taking care of her family, and prioritizing everyone else’s needs above her own. But when her kids grew up, those same habits meant MacDonald didn’t have many hobbies that got her up and moving.
Documenting her fitness journey on Instagram became that hobby.
A quick scroll through her photos shows Joan, now lean and strong, happily walking her followers through her daily gym routine, sharing workout outfit inspiration and her ideas for meal prep. She’s welcoming, understanding how impossible it can feel to start a fitness adventure at any age but especially as one gets older. Along with her nuggets of wisdom and hard-earned advice, she shares personal milestones and thoughtful sentiments about how to age gracefully. And she’s doing something right if her 1.3 million fans are anything to measure by.
MacDonald says most of those followers skew younger than those her own age. She suspects she knows why.
“I think it's because a lot of them look at me and think, ‘I wish my mom was like that. I wish my grandma was like that,’ and that's why they're actually following,” she says. “They're giving me a lot of good feedback, what they implemented into their lives and I'm blown away by a lot of them, what they've done. They just needed someone to show them the way. I didn't know I was that someone.”
Since starting her journey, MacDonald has been able to ditch all of the medications she was relying on just a few years prior. She lost 50 pounds in her first year of exercising regularly. She knows how lucky she is to have family, friends, and online followers that support her, but she maintains that anyone can and should start putting their health first. She recommends finding a personal trainer if you’re new to working out, just for a month if you can afford it so that you can learn what exercises work for you and how to do them properly. Paying attention to portion sizes and making time to create clean, home-cooked meals instead of ordering takeout is another good rule of thumb.
But most of all, MacDonald thinks the secret to aging better is fairly simple: do the things you’ve always wanted to do, and do them now.
“Take life and live it,” MacDonald says. “Embrace it, because you only get to come this way once.”