There’s Something About Joan

Incredible fitness transformation showing age ain’t nothing but a number

Joan MacDonald
Photo: Marc Torrecillas

A few years ago, Joan MacDonald was pushing 200 lbs, weighed down by a sedentary lifestyle and the associated health issues. The way the 75-year-old sees it now, she was merely existing. A heart-to-heart with her daughter was the catalyst for a fitness journey that made MacDonald an Internet sensation and inspiration – a woman dubbed everything from ‘Ripped Grandma,’ to ‘Sexy after 70,’ in headlines around the world.

Workouts, healthy habits and patiently pursuing results paid off. Photos don’t lie. Scroll through MacDonald’s Instagram @trainwithjoan, and you can see the transformation borne of hard work and a belief progress is possible.

MacDonald, whose home is Ontario, lives in Tulum, Mexico with her daughter right now. IMPACT Magazine is delighted she took time out of her busy life to chat. Next time, we want to meet her on the beach.

How did your health journey begin?

I was 5 ft.3 in., 198 lbs and had a 39 inch waist. I was on medication for high blood pressure and acid reflux, had terrible edema in my ankles, extremely painful arthritis and difficulty walking up and down stairs. I was tired, emotional and in desperate need of a change. My daughter, Michelle, came to me on the verge of tears and offered me the opportunity to work with her (she’s a fitness coach) by participating in an online group with women working to change habits.

​I renewed my gym membership, bought a food scale, a tape measure and got to work. It was incredibly hard work. My motto was, ‘I don’t mind if my changes are slow. I am going to go at my own pace and this time the changes are going to last the rest of my life.’ I think it is human nature, especially on a long journey, to wonder if we are on the right track, but as the months rolled by, we were all changing. The weight and the inches were coming off.

I’m now four years into my journey and I am a different woman. I know what macros are, can create balanced meals, know how to move with confidence in the gym and understand the importance of lifting heavy weight.

Where do you find inspiration?

Some days I am just not motivated. In those times I just lean into my habits. Your good habits will carry you through always.

How has fitness changed you?

I am more outgoing. Having a vibrant community around you can keep you sharp and grounded. Being surrounded by love really fosters growth. I have more energy, nixed my medications and got strong. I have arthritis but the pain goes down when I move more.

What would you say to your 20-year-old self?

Start taking care of yourself. Now is your investment into the future. I wish I would have started my transformation earlier.

Words to live by?

You can’t turn back the clock, but you can certainly wind it up again.

How important are work-out buddies?

Very important – iron sharpens iron. Seeing others around me level up makes me want to continue to pursue my best self.

What are you lifting these days?

Deadlifts. I did one at 175 lb. and hip thrusts around 275 lb. I lift weights five days a week and usually get in daily cardio walking or bike riding.

Nutrition tips?

Food prep items individually so you can create meals throughout the week. We usually have prepared salmon, chicken, pasta, rice and roasted veggies in our fridge.

You’re a really big deal right now with 1.1 million IG followers. Why do you think that is?

I am really surprised by how many people have been inspired by me. I do think that I am relatable and that may be a part of it. I love how supportive and encouraging everyone is and watching people start their own transformations.

Advice for others starting their fitness transformation?

Start with what you can do and make habits out of them. You may only be able to walk three blocks. That is okay. Start with walking those three blocks on a regular basis until you do a little bit more. I also suggest tracking food intake with a free app and looking at water intake. Don’t give up! Change takes time, but we are worth it.

Read this story in the digital edition of IMPACT Magazine.

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IMPACT Magazine’s 2021 Inspiration Issue

Read about our 2021 Canada’s Top Fitness Instructors – our top 30 from across Canada! Go beyond traditional thinking to optimize movement through stretching, find out about 7 DIY hacks to improve the air quality in your home, learn about taking care of your heart through proper nutrition, enjoy some of our best plant-based recipes yet, and work out with our Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers!

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