The other day, a woman who I’m guessing was around 60 approached me tentatively at a local coffee shop and asked, “You look so fit. What do you do?”
I explained I was a strength and fitness coach just down the street.
Her name was Maggie and she had just moved into the area. She explained she used to be really fit as a dancer, but had dealt with some health issues in the last couple years and had lost a lot of her strength and mobility. She seemed particularly excited the gym I told her about was so close to her house.
We kept talking, but then all of a sudden, a wave of fear came over her face as if she had just been jostled back to her uncertain reality. She looked down and asked quietly, “Am I being silly getting all excited about this? I mean, is this realistic? Would I even be able to train at your gym? Or am I, you know, too old?”
“Too old” is an excuse I’ve heard many people make for letting their fitness slide. I’ve heard 45 year-olds say they’re too old for the gym, and I’ve heard 70 year-olds assume they wouldn’t belong in a training environment.
On the other hand, I have also seen the 50-plus crew thrive.
After being a coach for 8 years, I have learned this: Fitness doesn’t need to end once you’re past your prime.
72-year-old Andrew is one of them.
He goes to a friends gym, StoneyCreek CrossFit, in Ontario, and often visits Friendly City CrossFit, a gym his son owns. And even on vacation, he makes it a priority to pop into a gym for his regular workout.
Not only is this man committed to fitness in his 70s, he says he sees shoveling the driveway as an opportunity for another workout.
“It keeps me young since most of my staff are under 30,” said Andrew, who still works full-time as the North American Customer Support manager for an automation company. It makes him feel like he’s 40 again, he added.
Is fitness what it would have been in his 30s? No. But he is still able to do most of the movements the 20-year-old next to him does. He still jumps on boxes, can row 2-km in 7:52 and run 8 km in 42 minutes, he said.
And get this, Andrew was never an athlete when he was young.
“Until I turned 58 in 2002 when I was introduced to running,” he explained. After becoming a runner for a number of years, he added lifting and gymnastics to his repertoire of fitness skills when his son opened Friendly City CrossFit in 2015.
He instantly recognized the strong community behind him at the gym, he said, and how it would have immediate effects on the quality of his life.
Fitness has “tremendous value for seniors. Getting off the floor, toilet or out of a chair, climbing stairs, picking up grandchildren or a bag of dog food from a truck,” he said. “I joke with myself that, ‘You will never get Alzheimer’s doing this. Remembering the movement abbreviations, counting sets and reps and technique while concentrating on not missing the box jumps.”
He added: “I now think about those older people that fall and can’t get put while I do burpees or man-makers by the dozen, or jump to my feet from a spider position or onto a 30-inch box…The tougher the workout, the more I like it.”
Today, Andrew trains five days a week and has a legitimate six-pack—proving many people in his life wrong that he couldn’t get a six-pack in his 70s, he said.
The hardest part, he said, is just to “take the first step.” In fact, he said the miracle isn’t that he trains five days a week and is fit at 72; the miracle is that he took that first step.
Once he did, the rest has fallen into place, he explained.
“I was surprised how easily I was accepted into the community. Age is not a barrier.”
Andrew’s biggest wish is that other seniors follow suit and use fitness to live longer, better lives.
“I believe…I am creating a bow wave behind me that rocks people a little and draws their attention. This attention may get them to think maybe I could do that. Most people will not, some may, but one person at a time will make more waves,” he said.