Home Body Transformation 'Strength Training Helped Me Transform My Body in My 70s' – Women's Health

'Strength Training Helped Me Transform My Body in My 70s' – Women's Health

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Joan MacDonald, from Ontario, Canada, is – in her won words, 74 years young, and in the best shape of her life. She took up strength training aged 70, and hasn’t looked back.

Since we’re celebrating the women who embody the idea that you can be fit at any age. This is her story.


I’ve always considered myself an active person. I played slow-pitch softball in my 40s, did lawn bowling in my 60s and I biked around a lot, but I didn’t follow a specific programme. Over the years, I worked out at the gym on and off. I even had some success with a personal trainer at one point, but wasn’t able to keep any weight off.

I was in my 70s when I knew I had to make a change. It was a couple of things that were all happening around the same time. I had terrible swelling in my ankles, painful arthritis and I had difficulty walking up and down stairs. I was on medication for high blood pressure and acid reflux, and my doctor had just told me that I may need to increase the dosage.

I was tired, I was emotional, and I was in desperate need of a change. On top of that, my mother’s health was also declining – and I knew I did not want to follow the same path she was on.

A fish out of a water

My daughter Michelle (@yourhealthyhedonista), a personal trainer, sat me down an insisted that I make big changes while I could still turn my health around. She really took me by the scruff of the neck and got me over that initial starting hump.

She asked me to join in her online group, with other women who were all working to change habits and take the best possible care of themselves. So I renewed my gym membership, bought a food scale, a measurement tape, and got to work.

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In my first session at the gym, I felt like a fish out of water. Following along with the workout Michelle had created, I was really challenged and found myself huffing and puffing throughout the whole workout. My acid reflux was terrible and it was tough to push through that. But it made me determined to stick with it.

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At the beginning I was strength training four days a week along with one day of yoga. The sessions lasted around 60 to 75 minutes with the warm-up and cooldown. I could see myself getting stronger and more skilled month to month.

Once I got stronger I started doing weight training 5 days a week. My plan had me doing 2 leg sessions, 2 upper body and 1 glute-focused session per week.

Making changes

I started to notice my measurements changing right away and that was so motivating for me to see. I lost about 10lbs the first month, and inches all-round. My clothes started falling off me.

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As part of the online group I was in, we had to make progress collages comparing how we looked with our original photos. That was very revealing, especially when we had a slow week.

I did change my diet too. I started eating 5 balanced meals a day. As part of my plan, I had to track my macros – how much protein, carbs and fats I needed in each of the 5 meals.

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I could eat whatever I wanted, but it had to match the macros I was given. I also had to stop snacking, and I had to drink water with every meal, and just slow down when I ate in general.

Levelling up

I now do more advanced exercises like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, squats and heavy hip thrusts. My balance and flexibility has improved a lot, so I’m also doing more single-leg exercises too.

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I can now do strict push-ups and pull ups, and I’m starting to do some plyometric exercises like hops and skipping – we’re working on my reflexes now.

Here’s how I workout in a week:

  • Monday: Yoga
  • Tuesday: Upper body
  • Wednesday: Lower body
  • Thursday: Cardio
  • Friday: Upper body
  • Saturday: Lower body
  • Sunday: Cardio

    Goals, smashed

    I really wanted to get off my medications I was taking – that was my primary goal. I also set a realistic goal to lose 2 stone. But by the 6-month mark I had lost almost 3 stone.

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    And at 10 months, I was able to get off my blood pressure and acid reflux medication. In addition, my cholesterol medication dropped by 50%. Currently I am off all medications! Hooray!

    I was over 14 stone at my heaviest. I currently weigh 9 stone! I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished. I never gave up on myself no matter how challenging or frustrating it was. I lost my mother in the first year, which was a real tragedy for me personally, but I kept training and following my meal plan throughout it all. I didn’t go back to my old habits.


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    Kirsti is Women’s Health’s Junior Fitness Editor, a personal trainer and WH’s resident tech junkie.

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