11 People Who Got into the Best Shape of Their Lives After 50
Need a little motivation? These people will inspire you not just to live your best life at any age but also to seize the moment and achieve fitness you never thought possible.
I lost 160 pounds so I could do a cartwheel for my daughter
As a busy mother of five, Patricia Jenkins, 54, of Zachary, Louisiana, felt that she didn’t have time to take care of herself. In her younger years she had been an aerobics instructor, played volleyball, and was a dancer, but she’d let her own passions slide as she helped her kids find theirs; her weight topped out at 320 pounds. Then, in 2012, her son announced that he was getting married, and she decided it was time to get fit. “I did not want to be the mother of the groom coming down the aisle in a dress that looked like a sheet!” she says. She also wanted to be able to play sports with her kids and be a good example for the ones still living at home.
She was able to drop two dress sizes before the wedding. Goal number two? “I wanted to do a cartwheel with my daughter,” she says. “I know this sounds extreme, as I still weighed over 288 pounds. To be able to lift all that weight to do a cartwheel would be a challenge.” But Jenkins loves a good challenge, and over the next few years, through careful diet and bariatric surgery, she was able to get her weight down to a toned 160, losing half her body weight.
Along the way she learned so much, she decided that she wanted to help others achieve their fitness goals, becoming a certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist. “Being 54 years young, I’d like to be able to show others that being fit and living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to stop because you reach a certain age,” she says. “[A] daily exercise regimen and proper nutrition is my solution for a healthy lifestyle and for longevity.”
Oh, and that cartwheel? She nailed it. Check out these 17 myths you shouldn’t believe about fitness after 50.
I’m 78 and I’m stronger and lighter than I was in high school
“On my 70th birthday, I saw a video of myself, hunched over and shuffling up to the podium where I was giving a talk. I was shocked! I looked like an old man,” says James P. Owen of Austin, Texas. “And the worst part was, I felt like one, too!” Back pain, knee pain, and shoulder pain—along with being overweight—made him feel like “a mess.” But instead of citing those conditions as an excuse, he used them as motivation to get fit. “I decided then and there that I was going to get in shape no matter what it took,” he says. He put his goal in writing so that there would be no backing out when things got tough.
At first, he says, he had a hard time finding fitness advice tailored to folks in their eighth decade of life and beyond. So he started with daily walks and stretching. Once he had those down, he added weight lifting to his routine, hiring a personal trainer to teach him the proper form and to design a routine. “Many people don’t realize that as we get older, we steadily lose lean muscle mass unless we’re doing something to counteract that—that’s why strength training is even more important for older people than it is for younger folks,” Owen says. The last piece was finding other activities he enjoyed, like tai chi, yoga, cycling, and swimming.
Eventually he dropped the extra weight, accomplishing a milestone not many can claim: He now weighs considerably less than he did in high school. At 17 years old he was 205 pounds. Today, at 78, Owen weighs a muscular 155. He also added another impressive accolade, authoring the book Just Move! A New Approach to Fitness After 50. “I learned that when you’re over 50, your fitness goals should be practical—functional fitness is about being physically equipped for the tasks of daily life. When you’re young, you can take those abilities for granted, but not when you’re older,” he says. “I’m living proof that, as long as you’re still mobile, it’s never too late to become more fit!” Find out the best way to work out for every decade of life.
I healed my knee and became a fitness coach
When Chris Lindquist of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was 50, she was hit with, as she calls it, “a serious case of the middle-age blahs. I had no energy, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was using food to deal with stress, along with a nightly glass (or two!) of wine,” she says. “I felt stuck in my body.”
Then she came across the book Younger Next Year, by Chris Crowley, and became inspired by its message not to wait to get fit. “It taught me to see daily exercise as not something to ‘fit in’ but as my job,” she says. She saw a physical therapist, who helped her resolve her knee problems, and started hitting the gym regularly. The last piece of her health puzzle fell into place when she saw a friend’s Facebook post about her own new diet-and-exercise program and became inspired to join her. Avoid these 22 habits that are making you age faster.
Her friend became her coach, giving her support and encouragement while making her accountable. Eventually Lindquist became inspired to become a health coach herself. “Now, at 58, I have my own team with the goal to empower other women in their health journeys,” she says. “I’m invigorated, have energy, am sleeping well, and finally learned not to turn to food for comfort. I’m so pleased with my outer transformation—I proved that you can lose weight after menopause!—but the inner transformation is what really stokes me. I am confident in myself, I am able to love my family and friends better, and feel empowered!” Watch out for these 15 signs that your body is aging faster than you are.
I lost over 100 pounds and got off pain pills
Because of scoliosis and other health conditions, Kristie Sullivan of Pinehurst, North Carolina, says she was in chronic pain and needed daily pain meds just to function. She was so out of shape that she could barely walk to her car without getting out of breath. And at 268 pounds, her health was only getting worse. “Every night I went to bed in pain; I couldn’t even walk upstairs to kiss my babies or tuck them in,” she says. “In desperation I decided I was going to lose weight or die trying.”
Yet despite following a low-fat diet and exercising, she still wasn’t losing much weight, and she felt awful. Finally she found Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes, and converted to a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle. This ketogenic diet changed everything for her. “For the first time since I became overweight at age three, I wasn’t constantly hungry,” she says. “The foods I ate were delicious and satisfying, and the weight started to melt off.” Check out 10 unexpected benefits of the keto diet.
Over the next five years, Sullivan lost 100 pounds, and now, at 50 years old, she’s healthier than she’s ever been. “I went from being so dissatisfied with my life that I no longer wanted to live to being able to do anything I want. I walk or hike with my family, go kayaking. But the best part is, I am now living pain-free without any medications,” she says.
Her success inspired her to help others, making YouTube videos and authoring Keto Living Day-by-Day and Keto Gatherings. “I know from experience that people who are obese or sick can be taken advantage of by people selling ‘magic’ weight loss pills and potions,” she says. “I want everyone to know that good health doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive: [that] our bodies simply need real food to feel really good and that they can overcome their health challenges, too.” Find your inner Olympian at any age.
I ditched my blood pressure medication
Pam Thomas of Cave Creek, Arizona, spent her 30s and 40s overweight and out of shape. With high blood pressure and other health problems looming on the cusp of her 50th birthday, Thomas decided it was time to finally take control of her health. “I was so tired of feeling ‘weighed’ down, physically and mentally,” she says. “It was hard to look in the mirror and see someone not only overweight but who had lost their spark for life.”
She started by tackling problem number one: her alcohol intake. She cut her drinking down to just one or two servings per month, and with just that one change she began to see improvements. Then she started exercising, and last, she cleaned up her diet, fixing her troubled relationship with food.
“Getting a handle on the ’emotional’ things that had me stuffing not only my emotions but my face was the key for me,” she says. “There’s so much information out there about weight loss, but the one thing we don’t read a lot about is how what we feed our minds has as great an impact.”
Now, at 51 years old, Thomas has lost 45 pounds, going from 200 to 154 pounds, and wears a size 6. But even more importantly, she got her blood pressure under control and no longer needs medication for it. “I feel healthy and happy, and best of all, I’ve got my spark back!” she says. Check out these 49 anti-aging foods that might add years to your life.
My husband and I can now do ten-mile bike rides every day
On New Year’s Day 2017, Allison Constantino of Orlando, Florida, and her husband were thinking about what their resolutions should be when he stepped on the scale. He was appalled by the number and decided right then that he needed to lose weight. Knowing that she had even more extra weight than he did, she suggested that they get fit together. But with both of them well into their 60s, it seemed like a daunting task.
The couple started by taking daily walks and making meals of protein and veggies. “I have to say, at first it was a real challenge. I was hoping the weight loss would be faster,” she says. “Eventually we both saw the scale start to move gradually down, but it seemed like it took absolutely forever.”
The couple stuck with their healthy habits, and nearly two years later she is down 40 pounds and he has lost 20 pounds. But the real success has been all the improvements in their daily lives, both physically and in their relationship. Now, instead of curling up on the couch after dinner, they take a bike ride. They went from being barely able to walk around the block to easily riding ten miles together. Bad weather won’t stop them, either: They’ve developed a love of indoor Spinning, Constantino says. “Doing this as a couple made it feel easier; having a ‘partner-in-crime’ really helped me stick to my goals,” she says. “We both feel 100 percent better today and have more energy and are healthier.” (Check out these easy exercises seniors can do at home.)
I became a competitive bodybuilder in my 50s
At 59 years old, Mimi Secor of Onset, Massachusetts, was a busy nurse practitioner thinking about going back to graduate school when her daughter, a health coach, decided to tell her a hard truth. “She told me that due to my weight, poor diet, and lack of fitness, I was not a healthy role model for my patients and that I was being a hypocrite,” she says. “That hit me hard, like a stake in my heart, and I became very motivated to change my life.”
With her daughter’s help, she cleaned up her diet and started hitting the weights at her gym. “The most important thing was changing my habits and mindset—I had to address the zillions of excuses that used to rule my life and derail my attempts to get and stay healthy,” she says.
One year later, Secor had dropped 30 pounds, lost 12 inches from her waist, and built a lot of muscle—all while pursuing a rigorous doctoral program. She decided to show off her progress by competing in a bodybuilding competition—and she ended up placing fifth in the over-40 category. Stop doing these 50 things that are making you age faster.
She fell in love with the sport, and now, at 64 years old, she has participated in three more bodybuilding competitions and wrote a book, Debut a New You: Transforming Your Life at Any Age, about her experiences. Now she says she’s living her dream of working with her daughter to help other busy, stressed-out women get healthy and fit so that they can feel better, have more confidence, and be more successful. Find out 14 things that happen to your body when you start a strength-training workout.
I sell candy for a living, but I finally got my sweet tooth under control
As a rep for Jelly Belly candy and various specialty chocolate lines, Susanne Diamond, 54, of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, has what many would consider a dream job. But while she loves her work, it wasn’t great for her health. “My car is constantly full of candy samples, and I felt like I had no control over my eating habits,” she says. “My weight just crept up and up, I was exhausted all the time, and my blood pressure was very high.”
Then, after a reality check during a visit to the doctor last year, Diamond realized that she needed to get healthy. She started by listening to a health podcast that mentioned a new book, The Dubrow Diet: Interval Eating to Lose Weight and Feel Ageless, by Heather Dubrow and Terry Dubrow, MD. The authors were looking for people to be in a test group for the program, and Diamond immediately signed up. Learn more about the powerful benefits of interval—or intermittent—dieting.
“Interval eating appealed to me, especially since there were no food gimmicks. I could eat healthy normal food; I could eat out; I could have cheat days and snacks,” she says. “I just had to restrict my eating to an eight-hour window, which ended up not being as hard as I thought. As long as I can have my coffee with a little cream in the morning, I’m good.”
Diamond lost 30 pounds and was able to get her blood pressure under control—and, best of all, now she no longer feels out of control at work. There’s also interval training; take a look at these incredible before-and-after photos of people who tried HIIT.
I got fit enough to get the puppy I’d always dreamed of
Puppies are cute and fun, but they’re also a lot of physical work. So even though Barbara Crawford, 64, of Muncie, Indiana, knew she wanted a dog, she had to wait. Because of osteoarthritis in her knees, she wasn’t even able to go upstairs, much less chase a rambunctious pup. “I had very limited mobility, but I was only in my late 50s. I felt like I was too young to feel this old,” she says. “I decided enough was enough and decided to get both my knees replaced.”
She hoped that the surgery would not only help heal her pain but also would help her lose weight and become more active. After the surgery, her recovery was tougher than expected, so she created motivation: “I made a goal that if I could go on walks again and walk up and down stairs, then we could get that puppy,” she says. She worked hard, exercising every day, and started a low-carb diet. She started to drop the pounds and then suddenly gained ten back—in the form of a puppy!
“Having a dog inspired me to go on even more walks and spend time outside gardening,” Crawford says. All of this extra movement added up—over the next two years, she lost 50 pounds. Since then she’s kept off the weight and kept the dog, both of which she says have made her life so much better. Check out 15 benefits of walking just 15 minutes.
I lost 219 pounds and no longer have diabetes
A former Marine, Craig Musci, 53, of Roseville, California, wasn’t used to having to watch what he ate. All the physical activity had kept him in top shape; after leaving the military, though, his weight started to creep up, finally reaching 433 pounds. “My wake-up call was when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and put on medication for it,” he says.
He turned to a VA dietitian, who helped him come up with a healthy eating plan; the dietitian also suggested that he use the Lose It! app to help him track everything he ate and keep him accountable. He lost 100 pounds and qualified for weight-loss surgery, which helped him lose an additional 119 pounds. Musci also cut out fast food and switched to eating six small meals a day. “Probably the biggest help was using the app,” he says. “Logging my food every day gave me the motivation to stick with it and helped me see my results.”
Enjoying a slimmer figure (and all the compliments that go with it) has been fun, he says, but the real success is that he no longer has any symptoms of diabetes and doesn’t have to take any medications anymore. Find out 30 anti-aging secrets for a longer life.
I healed from a traumatic experience
“When I was 53, my family went through a deeply traumatic experience. I was reeling and unsure how to deal with it when a friend suggested I try yoga,” says Bracha Goetz, 62, of Baltimore, Maryland. “I tried it and fell in love! I now do a 75-minute class every day.”
In addition to helping heal her soul, yoga also helped her see how she was using food as a Band-Aid for her emotional pain. “I started asking myself one simple question with compassionate awareness whenever I feel like overeating: Is it my body that is hungry or my soul?” If it isn’t physical hunger—and quite often it isn’t, she says—then she thinks of a different way to nourish herself. She’ll call or text someone lonely, step outside to breathe in some nature, or listen to music while stretching or dancing. “Then suddenly, right then and there, the bag of potato chips stops calling,” she says.
All of these small healthy changes have had a big impact on her life. “At 62, I am more fit now than I have been my whole life—including even when I was teen—and I definitely have more muscles than ever,” Goetz says. But the best part? “Now my life is fulfilling and joyful, filled with the spiritual nourishment I craved,” she adds. Try these 9 healthy habits your 80-year-old self will thank you for.