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How I Became Ripped at 70

Joan MacDonald's path to fitness — and Instagram stardom

Joan MacDonald
LUIS MORA

When my daughter, Michelle, was home for Christmas in 2016, she told me she was worried about my health. At the time, I was 70 years old and nearly 200 pounds — at only 5 foot 3 — and on meds for blood pressure, cholesterol and acid reflux. I'd had a knee replacement several years earlier, but I hadn't fully recovered — I could still take only one step at a time on the stairs. My blood pressure was rising, and my doctor was threatening to up my meds. I hated how I was living.

Joan MacDonald flexing muscles
Courtesy of Joan MacDonald

Michelle is a personal trainer in Mexico, and she dared me to let her train me long-distance. It was strategic: She knows I'm always up for a dare, and I agreed to start training that January. She put me in a group with other women who were learning to lift weights and eat a more balanced diet — and it worked. I lost 40 pounds within six months.

Then Michelle got another idea: She said I should join Instagram. I'm a little reserved by nature, and she thought it would get me out of my shell. I said OK. At first I didn't hear from many people, but as I posted about fitness and continued to lose weight and get stronger, my account accumulated more and more followers. I've got more than 900,000 of them now. I've lost nearly 70 pounds total and become much stronger, healthier and happier — and I'm off all of my meds. Every day, I interact with people who are inspired by my story of turning my life around. I'm called an influencer now. When I joined the platform, I didn't even know what an influencer was.

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People sometimes tell me, “You're lucky having a daughter who's a coach.” That is true, but I did the work! I hear from people all the time who have been able to reduce or get off their meds through diet and exercise, and they don't all have a daughter who's a coach. They just have the discipline to do the work.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.