Under The Grandfluence: Train With Joan

BY Annie Dabb

8th Aug 2023 Life

Under The Grandfluence: Train With Joan

Meet Joan Macdonald, a bubbly and vivacious fitness inspiration with an infectious laugh, who also happens to be 79 years old and has 1.8 million followers on Instagram! Not just content with getting fitter and dropping a few pant sizes, Joan Macdonald is one of the many people who’ve followed her daughter’s fitness plan to undergo a bodily transformation

After Joan’s daughter, Michelle (known as @yourhealthyhedonista on Instagram) came to her and told her she had to make a decision, to live as she was, on medication and overweight, or to transform herself for the better, Joan, completely changed her lifestyle. Now, she's a fitness fanatic, social media personality, (@trainwithjoan on Instagram), and co-author of Flex your Age. Oh, and she’s got biceps of steel!  

Her app, Train with Joan, has been designed with accessibility in mind so that anyone can follow her minimal-equipment workouts and meal plans from anywhere. Each recipe has a macro breakdown and the app includes a macro calculator to ensure you can easily stay on track with your health and fitness journey. 

How did you get started with fitness?

Joan and her daughter Michele Joan and her daughter Michelle. Credit: Joan MacDonald 

It was Michelle putting down the challenge that got me. I saw what she did with her transformation group, and she said she could fix me if I would listen to her. That was a big challenge because I was now listening to my daughter, instead of the other way round.

It’s a lot easier today because there’s a much more sophisticated set up, that’s much easier than what I went through. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I was just determined. When I started off, I had a printed PDF and had to follow the Youtube suggestions that Michelle gave me.

Was the goal always to go through a complete transformation? 

My health was bad. My whole persona was bad, as a matter of fact. I was an introvert, and I didn’t want to go taking any more medication.

I asked my doctor if I could settle my blood pressure down if I lost the weight; my blood pressure was erratic, and I have kidney problems. I didn’t want to go on a dialysis machine, so I enlisted my doctor’s help who monitored my blood pressure, and it kept coming down with me losing the weight and working out.

After I got started with Michelle, I came down to Mexico and she took me to the gym. It was supposed to be cooler but because of my acid reflux, every time I went to the gym I would be bringing up. We got through that eventually, but the gyms here were not the cleanest and the equipment was antiquated. You’d probably ask now, “what the hell is this thing?”

"I began my fitness journey because I wanted to get off the medication—the fact that I've lost weight is just a bonus"

I wasn’t concerned about getting skinny, that wasn’t the aim. The fact that I’ve lost weight is just a bonus. I began [my fitness journey] because I wanted to get off the medication, that was my main concern. Now I take daily supplements instead, but that’s different; if I forget, it doesn’t matter!

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Joan on an exercise machine at the gym Credit: Joan MacDonald 

There were only a few times I really wanted to throw the towel in, but it was momentary. Sometimes I just felt I was not equipped to do this. But my stubbornness kicked in thank God. I didn’t want to disappoint myself or them (Michelle and her husband, JJ) because they put faith in me.

I’ve learnt that your hydration, your sleep and your mindset (although mine wasn’t really working all that great back then), are all really important. If I say I’m going to do something, I am 100 per cent sure that I am going to do it. I don’t make promises easily, so if I do make a promise, I am bound and bent to honour that.

The first six months I was using the machines more than anything. At month two or three Michelle got me into the weights. I remember lifting a 10 pounds weight and going “holy gees”, but even now with the injuries that I’ve had, I can still lift three or four times that.

How did you come to document your fitness journey on Instagram?

It's been a lot of learning about the iPad and the iPhone. I don’t think I had an iPhone until the end of the first year. JJ had to step in and calm me down sometimes because I’d just get so frustrated with myself and I wasn’t familiar with the technology.

Michelle wanted me to share my story and keep me versing with other people on my Instagram. I was happy because I didn’t have to be in any company. I could just answer questions and maybe help someone else. That was how I started out, just wanting to help somebody else.

How has the fitness community you’re part of helped your progress?

Jane with 10kg weights Credit: Joan MacDonald 

Oh my god. When we started the app (Train With Joan is available for IOS and android), the community I finally ended up with is amazing. We designed it so that people can say what they feel and give feedback, and if you’re struggling with something, maybe someone else is as well, so you can help each other out.

In the two years since we’ve had the app, the community has grown enormously and they are so supportive of one another. The community is fabulous and I love it. I’ve made friends with quite a few of them and I’d love to meet them all. The support is phenomenal. I don’t know if anyone else has an app with a community as strong as ours but if they do, God bless them.

The communication I have with people is back and forth. I’m blown away by the stories that I hear from people on my Instagram. Improving the lives of loved ones is usually what it’s about.

My biggest following is 20-30 year olds believe it or not. They’re trying to encourage their mothers or their aunts to get fit. A lot of them have had negative reactions but they’re still sticking with it, and that’s a big plus. If you can still go ahead when you get negative reactions, then you’ve got what it takes to get through it and have a healthy life.

"Don’t ever say you can’t do something, because you have no idea how strong you could be"

Don’t say you can’t, until you have at least given it an honest shot. Don’t ever say you can’t do something, because you have no idea how strong you could actually be.

I’ve always been an active person. I’m a doer. I don’t like talking about it, just do it. I know I’m a stronger person than I ever thought I was. It has been ten years that my bones have not deteriorated, and at my age, that’s pretty damn good.

How did you grow your following to 1.8 million?

It was slow growing at first, but by the second year, when Hattie Boydle was here, they were all (Michelle, JJ and Hattie) joking around and I thought, “I can do whatever they can”. I was doing hip thrusts and I wasn’t aware of how much I was lifting because they kept adding weight fractionally.

I was getting tired, but I kept going and finished my reps, and eventually I asked, “What was that weight on there?” Michelle told me it was over 200 pounds. I laughed and asked her, “Are you trying to kill me?”.

They were videotaping it all. Hattie was easily lifting 400 pounds in hip thrusts and the bar was bending and I was thinking, “I’m not lifting that, no way am I getting under a bar that is bending over me”. Michelle ended up posting the video of me and it went viral.

Then we had someone asking if they could use the video for an “end of year accomplishments round up”. It was through another company, so I didn’t know who it was, and afterwards I found out it had been Google who had bought the video.

After that it blew up. I was getting thousands of responses at that time, and it just grew from there. Now at 1.8 million, I’m going “wow, I guess that’s a lot”. Michelle mostly manages it, I’m just the conduit. I just show up and I do what I’m told, which is perfect for me. If I can get people to listen, that’s all I need. Just do it for yourself.

What’s your biggest achievement since embarking on your health and fitness journey?

Joan with her book Flex Your Age Joan with her book Flex Your Age. Credit: Joan MacDonald

I’ve gotten more mobile, agile and stronger, and my bones have maintained their strength. After I fell off my bike last week and the doctor saw me, he was just astounded. He kept checking my bones and my head and saying, “really, no concussion?!”.

I have doctors and medical professionals following me on Instagram and commenting—which is surprising to me that they follow me but they do—and I guess people find it amazing because it’s an older person doing this kind of stuff who never did it before. I’ve got some young ones who say, “I’m looking at you, and I want to be like that when I’m older”.

"I don't think about my age, I think about how I feel. I feel like I’ve got my youth back again"

I’m finally getting to do stuff that I wanted to do when I was a lot younger, but that I didn’t have either the nerve or the ability to do. It’s so freeing, I feel like I’ve got my youth back again. I don’t think about my age, I think about how I feel. If you feel young, why can’t you act young? Who out there has the authority to say you must dress a certain way, talk a certain way, be a certain way because of your age? That’s total malarkey.

What advice would you give to older people interested in getting into fitness and improving their health?

You have to build good habits until you are in charge of your life. I like to workout first thing in the morning if I can. Get it done, and then I have the rest of the day to myself. Drink a minimum of three litres of water a day. A lot of people say, “I can’t drink that much”, but yes you can. It flushes out all the crap, so you have a healthier body to work with.

Healthy meals, protein, water, and sleep are paramount. Mindset is also important because your mind plays the trickiest tricks on you. When I looked in the mirror before this journey, I knew I was overweight, but I didn’t think I looked it.

You have to measure your weight on scales, but do not let the scales rule you. You have to take your measurements as well, and when you start feeling your clothes getting looser on you, you know it’s all working for you. Fat takes up more room than muscle, so your scales could say you gained weight, but when you take your measurements, you’ve lost inches.

Don’t forget the child that is in you, but don’t act out the child that could be there. You can do some things that are silly, without being harmful to anyone, even yourself. When we get older, I don’t know what happens to the head, but we don’t think of really good stuff, all we seem to pick on is negatives. It’s important to find the fun in life

Banner credit: Joan MacDonald 

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