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Joan MacDonald, 74: Journey to Strength and Fitness

At 70, Joan MacDonald was getting winded walking up a flight of stairs and now, at 74, she is doing weighted pull-ups and 200 lb hip thrusts. She is a huge inspiration to us and our tribe so, due to popular demand, we are following up on our recent podcast with her to get more details about her journey.

Joan MacDonald continues to inspire and fascinate us with her incredible dedication and transformation. We have received many emails wanting to learn more about Joan after our recent podcast with her and her daughter. We reached out to Joan to get some more detail on how she went from being on multiple medications and in danger of some very severe consequences from her obesity, to super fit. 

Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women, Training With Joan
Joan 3 years before and after.

At an age when we’re told to walk around the mall for exercise, Joan MacDonald is doing weighted pull-ups. Clinically obese with high blood pressure, acid reflux, and arthritis, Joan decided to make a change and get off her prescribed meds. She started working with a trainer, her daughter Michelle MacDonald and found herself on “an adventure” where every week she feels stronger. She has completely transformed her health, is off her meds, and is inspiring her one million Instagram followers with her story. David sits down with Joan and Michelle to discuss this incredible journey, Joan’s training regime and diet, and how “age has nothing to do with your potential.”

“Do the exercises, get in there and make yourself stronger. Have a better life than you’re having.”

Let’s go back to when you started your fitness journey. How old were you when you started?
I was 70 years old when I started my transformation journey.

Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women, Training With Joan
Our hero. Joan MacDonald

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Why did you decide to make a change?
I went to the doctor’s office and they wanted to up my medications. I wanted no part in that. I was really upset and I had this new determination to lose some weight. I knew if I lost the weight it would help in getting off my medications.  

What were the beliefs and fears you had to overcome in order to begin?
I had to learn technology and a new vocabulary in order to work on my new program provided by my daughter. Learning technology was like learning a foreign language, and at times very frustrating. I had a fear that I couldn’t do it. With Michelle’s constant help I was able to push through.

Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women, Training With Joan
Eat right. Live right.

“I started getting used to eating 5 balanced meals a day”

Could you describe a typical week for you in the first month of your workout journey? Let’s start with your diet.
I started getting used to eating 5 balanced meals a day. A pre-workout meal, post-workout meal, and three other meals. Before, I had been eating 3 meals a day but wasn’t aware of breaking meals up into protein, fat, and carbs. I also was not eating much before starting with my daughter.

How much were you sleeping?
I would sleep about 8 hours.

Were you taking any supplements?
I took whey protein powder, omega-3 capsules, Metamucil, and a multivitamin.

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What were your initial goals?
My initial goals were to lose about 20 or 30 pounds and then get off my medications. I had no idea that this journey would lead me far past that.

Day-to-Day Workout at the Start and Now

What would a day-by-day workout for a week look like for you back when you started?
I started with some daily cardio and would train on weights about 4 days a week.

Now let’s fast forward to your current routine. What is your day-to-day routine on a weekly basis?
I wake up in the morning and I meditate, eat my pre-workout meal, and then bike to the gym to train. I like to train in the morning so that I have the rest of the day to run errands, food prep, and work. 

Recovery, Macros and Supplements

How do you manage your recovery?
I have two off-days per week for recovery. I will go and relax at the beach and spend time with my daughter and son-in-law. If I want to keep active I may do a yoga class or go for a bike ride.

Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women, Training With Joan
Own it.

What are you eating in terms of macros and calories?
I eat around 150 grams of protein, 165 grams of carbohydrate, and 50 grams of fat. I eat 5 balanced meals a day. I eat a pre- and post-workout meal and three other meals.

How much are you sleeping now?
I sleep around 8 hours a night. If I am tuckered out from training I will take a catnap. Give me 30 minutes and I am good to go again.

What sort of supplements are you taking now?
I take a few supplements from Women’s Best including: Fit Pro Whey Protein, Collagen Peptides+, Creatine, Omega-3 Capsules, L-Glutamine, and BCAA’s (Branch Chain Amino Acids).

“At 70 years old she was huffing and puffing just to get up a flight of stairs. Now, she is learning how to barbell squat and is hip-thrusting over 200 lbs”

Let’s check in with your daughter Michelle, who is also your trainer. What surprises you most about Joan’s fitness?
How far she has come! At 70 years old she was huffing and puffing just to get up a flight of stairs. Now, she is learning how to barbell squat and is hip-thrusting over 200 lbs.

What are some of the things she had to overcome?
I think like most women my mom had to overcome the stories she was telling herself that kept her spiraling downward. She needed to change her mindset. Without it, she was living her life out of fear. Since working with mom she has been breaking down internal barriers. She is now a woman who takes care of herself out of love from the way she eats, dresses, talks to herself, trains, and more.

How is her training different from someone your own age?
It isn’t. I hold the bar high for all my clients and I implement a basic bodybuilding approach: routine eating, progressive overload in the gym, and taking daily measurements. This is all to teach women how to become more strategic on how to achieve those goals. It works for the 20-something to someone who is 75.

Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women, Training With Joan
Joan MacDonald, Wonder Women

“Other people can make a similar transition”

Do you feel Joan is exceptional, or can other people make a similar transition?
Other people can make a similar transition. I’ve coached many women and have seen many incredible transformations over the years. It comes down to having the right mindset, being consistent, and having a solid strategy and system to achieve your goals.

All photos from Joan MacDonald Instagram feed. Check it out.



See medical disclaimer below. ↓


  1. I am so inspired by this woman. I am 60 and working on getting myself back to health. It’s nice to have someone to model what health can look like at any age. I’m dealing with some of the same issues as Joan was, high blood pressure, acid reflux, and arthritis, as well as lack of sleep, and issues with my knees and feet. I’ve lost about 8 pounds since the beginning of the year and looking to loose another 15 lbs. Looking at Miss Joan and reading her story gives me hope that I can reach my goals and stay there. Congratulations! Keep inspiring us all!!

  2. A wonderful story.

    I’m on a journey like Joan, but not as far along. January last year, I was turning 65 and was overweight (and in a bad mood). I made a resolution to do some exercise *every day* (run, walk, bike, weight lift, pushups, stretching, whatever), and 150 minutes of it (at least) per week. I track my workout every day in a spreadsheet (to be accountable to myself). I’ve not missed a day in the last 13 months, and have lost 25 pounds and run/walked over 800 miles.

    Physically, I’m in the best shape I’ve been since, I don’t know, I was 50. I feel great. And the daily activity has been terrific for my mental health – esp in bizarro 2020.

    My focus isn’t on the last 13 months of gains, or the future obligation to work out (which might feel overwhelming). It’s on today – on my commitment to myself to do something physical, today.

  3. I am an active 55-year-old, in good shape for my age, but Joan pushes me to strive for more. In the last few years, I have noticed it’s harder to keep my weight down and retrain muscle. I lap swim 6 days a week six months out of the year along with other activities, but it’s still a struggle. I started to get depressed about it. I knew I needed to add more weights and other exercises but I felt self-conscious about starting because there has been such a gap between the younger me who did it all, and now.. However, since I discovered Joan’s story on Instagram my attitude changed. I have added weights and HIIT exercises weekly. Most of the routines are by trainers who are 30 years younger, which sometimes is less motivating than motivating knowing that I can’t get back there. But keeping up with Joan’s story is a great balance. She is so beautiful inside and out and gives me hope that my future is bright, if I just keep moving, and pumping, and eating right.

  4. I think Joan looks wonderful and her story is inspirational. It’s important to be realistic though, not everyone who takes up a similar workout will end up looking like Joan. They will be just as healthy but not everyone is genetically programmed to be able to become as muscular as she is. My daughter is like her father and builds muscle really quickly. I on the other hand, have been doing weight lifting every week for the last 3 years (I’m 62) and whilst I’ve definitely made progress and have become more muscular, the difference to the naked eye is minimal. I feel great though. You don’t have to take extreme measures to get results.

  5. Joan illustrates the maxim that working out strategically, to whatever degree you can or want to, has only up-sides at any age. If that means doing chair yoga or seated hand and leg weight workouts, great. It doesn’t have to be a triathlon to yield benefits. And if sustained, those benefits are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Consulting a trainer is a great way to start and a gym is not essential. You go, Joan!

  6. Could you tell me how many hours you spend in the gym with weights. I only have about 30 minutes and wondering if this is enough?
    Thank you!!!

    • Hi Kathy,
      If you are doing 5 day split workouts, which is what Joan described doing n the podcast I did with her, you really target a muscle group and can do a lot in that time. I use an app called Body Fit, which sabot $6/month and do the 5-Day Split Program 1. If one is diligent about the time, the lifting portions are about 30mintues.
      Hope that helps.

  7. When I was 34 I was 205 lbs. Took one year to drop about eighty and have kept it off for 35 years. At sixty, I trained to climb Kilimanjaro, and turned myself into an adventure athlete. Fifty badass tips later, I now write about fitness after fifty, adventure travel and aging vibrantly. Stories like Joan’s are more common that we think; we forget that someone next to us in the gym may have lost 100lbs, or transformed their lives through better diet. I love highlighting those stories for it helps to let folks know we don’t have to be supergeezers. Just move more, eat better, and commit to yourself. I am about to head back to Africa and then Bhutan, and plan to summit Kili again when I turn 70 next year. No reason why not. I skydive, ride horses all over the world, bungee jump, hike, cycle, you name it. No reason why, if we are willing to do the work, we can’t also get in superb shape. As a bodybuilder for nearly 50 years, the gym is my second home. But you can get results from a great many sports. We don’t stop playing because we get old, the saying goes, we get old because we stop playing. It’s not just about the body, but without fitness, it’s awfully hard to play. What are you willing to do today to ensure better options? Great story, David, and keep up the good work.

  8. Hi I am 65 years old walk about 4 days a week and work out every other day on arms and legs I don’t sleep well at night due to pain in legs and feet I found out 2 years ago that I have neuropathy I struggle with balance. I always try to work out and think positive do you have any suggestions


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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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