The landscape of women’s fitness is changing for the better, with a greater focus being placed on empowerment, health, and wellbeing.
Although the history of women’s fitness is complicated, what we do know is that personal fitness for women used to be considered unladylike! In fact, in the 1920s, women who wanted to exercise were told they should do so at home, so they wouldn’t be seen sweating in public. Activities like running, bodybuilding, and other sports were also widely seen as ‘men’s activities’.
Thankfully, the world has come on in leaps and bounds and, today, the women’s fitness industry is booming. Women of all ages and abilities are getting strong, pushing boundaries, and feeling fierce in their own skin.
And while there’s still much work to be done in terms of making fitness more accessible for all, it helps that there are plenty of trailblazers leading the way.
Below, I’ve pulled together a list of seven women over 60, who are proving that it’s never too late to start smashing your fitness goals.
Edwina ‘Eddie’ Brocklesby completed her first marathon at the age of 52, and a triathlon soon after.
Since then, she’s travelled the world, completing many more races – such as Ironman and ultra-distance cycling. She’s also the founder and director of Silverfit, a charity devoted to the promotion of the health benefits of physical activity for older adults.
In 2018, Eddie published her autobiography, Irongran, in which she talks about her life and career as a social worker and triathlete. She’s an inspiring figure who, at 78 years old, is still actively pushing the limits of what she can do and accomplish.
Wendy is a domestic violence survivor who had poor health and low self-esteem and almost lost her life on several occasions during her 13-year relationship. After finally escaping with her children at the age of 43, Wendy joined the gym and lost 80 lbs.
As Wendy’s body changed, her mind changed too, and she gained clarity over the path she wanted to take in life. She quit her job as an accountant, learnt as much as she could about nutrition, and became a qualified personal trainer – as well as a life coach, and trauma coach.
At 57, she competed in her first bodybuilding competition and at 60 she set two world records – one for doing the most burpees in one minute and the other for being the oldest active instructor in multiple disciplines.
Today, Wendy holds eight bodybuilding championships and is an author, speaker, lifestyle coach, and fitness expert. She’s also a frequent guest on TV and talk radio, and has achieved international recognition via commercials, exercise videos, magazines, and dozens of other appearances.
Johanna Quaas is a 97-year-old German woman who’s known for her incredible athleticism and dedication to gymnastics. She was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest active competitive gymnast in 2012, and has made waves on social media over the years by posting videos of her impressive routines.
As a result, Johanna has won nearly 43K followers on her Instagram account, and her moves have left athletes such as Simone Biles speechless. Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis is also a fan. She reposted a 2017 video of Johanna, with the caption: “You are my spirit fighter!! Wow!! GOALS!!!!”
Though Johanna competed in gymnastics as a child and spent most of her life as a gymnastics coach and handball player, she didn’t return to active gymnastics herself until the age of 56.
Quaas’s secret to longevity is her green diet, moderation, and plenty of exercise (gymnastics three or four days a week, with an occasional sauna and a dip in the pool!).
In 2013, at 64 years old, Diana Nyad became the first person to swim a distance of 111 miles in 53 hours from Florida to Cuba, without the protection of a shark cage. This wasn’t Diana’s first attempt – she’d tried three times before, with her first attempt being in her 20s when she was unable to continue due to severe jellyfish stings.
Prior to her success in 2013, Diana had completed various long-distance swims, including a 102.5-mile journey from the island of Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida, and a swim around Manhattan in under eight hours.
Today, Diana still swims and is also an author, journalist, and motivational speaker. If you want to find out more about Diana and her journey with swimming, then it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for a new film release later this year. NYAD, starring Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, will be aired on Netflix in the fall.
Ernestine Shepherd began training at the age of 56, alongside her sister and best friend Velvet, after leading a sedentary lifestyle as a school secretary. Together, they got into bodybuilding and strived to become the world’s oldest bodybuilding sisters.
Then, in 1992, Velvet died and Ernestine stopped going to the gym. But with renewed determination, she slowly built her body up and, in 2010, she eventually broke the Guinness World Record for the oldest competitive female bodybuilder.
Now 86, Ernestine no longer competes, though she’s still incredibly active – and can bench press 50kg! She follows a strict diet of boiled eggs, chicken, vegetables, and a liquid egg drink, and runs about 80 miles a week.
Ernestine is an inspiration to us all, showing us that it’s never too late to achieve our goals.
After spending decades as a hairdresser, last year, Sharon – who was 65 at the time – decided to follow in the footsteps of her daughter and become a yoga teacher.
She’d had concerns about fading into the background with age. And though she’d had a rewarding career as a hairdresser, a broken arm in her 50s had led her to reconsider what she might like to do with her later years. She knew she didn’t want to rest, so she decided it might be time for a change.
With that in mind, Sharon, along with four strangers, embarked on a 250-hour teaching course in Spain, which qualified her to teach yoga. And she’s now enjoying connecting with people in her classes through touch in the same way that she did as a hairdresser.
In an interview with The Guardian, Sharon said, “I like to think when I’ve finished a yoga class that people go out feeling happy and contented and pleased and relaxed. Those are the same feelings I wanted people to leave my salon with. In return, I’ve been able to keep my brain active, my body supple. Physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically, it’s been amazing.”
After being diagnosed with breast cancer twice, Louise Cooper decided that she wanted to live life to the fullest and “erase boundaries from her mind.”
So, just five months after she finished chemotherapy in her 40s in 1999, Louise completed a 135-mile ultramarathon in 40 hours. The race began 279ft below sea level in California’s Death Valley and ended at an elevation of 8,360ft.
Since then, she’s returned to adventure racing, which involves trekking through the unmarked wilderness in unforgiving weather conditions, while carrying on her supplies on her back. She’s also taken up mountain climbing, and has so far climbed Africa’s Kilimanjaro, Russia’s Elbrus, South America’s Aconcagua – and attempted Alaska’s Denali.
Now in her late 60s, alongside teaching kindergarteners, Louise works for Project Athena; an organisation that helps women get back on their feet again after medical setbacks. Her work involves helping women break down barriers, step outside of their comfort zones, and open themselves up to the incredible, life-changing adventures that the world has to offer.
Were you inspired by any of these women? Have you recently got into sports or fitness? Or perhaps you’re thinking about trying something new? Please share your story – and questions – in the comments section.