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‘I’m 71 and in the Best Shape of My Life—Here’s the One Super-Simple Tip I Swear By'

Wendy Ida is a lifestyle coach, award-winning bodybuilder and author of the best-selling book Take Your Life Back! My No Nonsense Approach to Health Fitness and Looking Food Naked. Here, she shares in her own words how she started taking charge of her health in her 40s, which changed both her body and mindset. She gives her best advice for starting your health journey no matter how old you are, including the one habit that will make the biggest impact.

I may be in great shape now, but I wasn’t always. In fact, I knew nothing about health until I was in my 40s. I grew up in New Jersey and, at the time, no one around me was talking about health. I got married when I was 19 and the relationship escalated to one that was abusive. I endured a lot of domestic violence. My husband was into drugs, which affected me and my children badly.

At the time, I had low self-esteem and didn’t love myself enough. But I did love my children, which is what pushed me to escape the abusive relationship. It took me three tries to finally escape safely. The first two times, my husband found me and my children and brought us back. The third time, we got on a plane to California with nothing but the clothes on our backs. That’s when I started reinventing my life.

Related: The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do if You're Over 60 and Want to Stay Healthy

A Body and Mind Makeover

In California, a lot of people went to the gym, so I started to go too. I was working as an accountant and everyone kept saying they went to the gym before or after work, so I decided to try it. I was overweight, but since my mom and aunts were overweight, I assumed that would be my fate too and I couldn’t change it. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the gym, so even though I was working out, my body wasn’t changing. I would go on the treadmill and do some ab exercises, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

Then, one day, a trainer offered to help me. He taught me how to lift weights and use the weight machines. It was like magic. My body started to change and at 42, I was healthier than I had ever been in my life. My mindset completely changed too. I became more fun, laidback and carefree. I was finally living.

I was so inspired by how fitness changed not only my body but my entire mindset that I decided to pursue personal training myself. I wanted to help others reinvent their lives the way I had reinvented mine.

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When I was 57, I decided to start bodybuilding. I’ve won several bodybuilding competitions, beating women decades younger than me—it blew my mind! When I turned 60, I became a two-time Guinness World Record holder. The first was for doing burpees: I did 37 in one minute when the record was 30. The second record was being the oldest fitness trainer with multiple disciplines.

Over time, I lost 80 pounds, but the biggest change was my mind and mental health. Attempting new fitness challenges gave me confidence and joy. It truly changed my life!

The #1 Food Tip I Swear By to Keep My Body In Great Shape

Of course when it comes to staying healthy, what you do outside of the gym matters too—especially when it comes to food. Personally, I eat primarily plant-based foods as well as fish. I don't eat dairy. While I don't follow a specific diet per se, this way of eating is in line with the Mediterranean diet, which has been scientifically backed to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and can add years to your life.

What I like about this way of eating is that it's not about deprivation; there are so many delicious foods still on the table! I do love to go out to eat at nice restaurants, but for me, it's more about the people I'm with and the ambiance than anything else. If you too like to go out to eat but are trying to lose weight, my main piece of advice is to skip dishes with creams or sauces. They add a lot of extra calories to your meal.

The Fitness Tip That Will Change Your Body

I want people who are mid-age or older to know that it’s never too late to start your fitness journey. I know it can be intimidating for many people, but you truly can change your body at any age. My best advice is to just start and find someone who can truly teach you what to do. After all, that’s how we learn anything else! I understand how overwhelming the gym can be. But having a trainer teach you how to actually use the machines in a way that’s safe for you can really make a difference.

The number one habit I recommend is to focus on strength training because it’s so important for bone health, which is crucial as we get older, and also is what is really going to transform your body. But it’s important to do it safely. Don’t just mimic what you see other people doing because it might not be best for you.

In terms of my personal workout, I prioritize full-body strength training six days of the week, alternating between upper-body strength training one day and lower-body strength training the next day. I also mix up the type of cardio I do. That keeps it fun! I take one day off a week where I don't work out at all. Part of taking care of yourself is knowing when to rest.

Below is the exact strength-training workout I do:

Upper-body strength training (three days a week):

  • Cable Rows (3 sets, 15 to 20 reps, 40 to 50lbs)

  • Lateral Pull-downs (3 sets, 15 to 20 reps, 40 to 50lbs)

  • Combination of mountain climbers, burpees and push-ups (3 sets of 10 to 20 reps of each move)

Lower-body strength training (three days a week):

  • Sumo Squats (3 to 4 sets, 15 to 20 reps, 15 to 20lbs.)

  • Walking Lunges (3 to 4 sets, 15 to 20 reps, 15 to 20lbs.)

  • Combination of bird dog crunch-to-plank (3 to 4 sets, 20 reps)

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My other big piece of advice is to not get complacent. It’s so easy to get into the habit of not moving your body. It’s important to find ways to move throughout the day—even if they are small ways. For example, gardening, walking and swimming are great ways to move your body.

Last, stay curious. Every year, I challenge myself to learn something new. This year, I decided to take swimming classes and learn Spanish. Trying new things keeps you on your toes. Aging does not have to mean becoming weaker or frail. Aging can mean getting stronger and sharper. What’s most important is to simply start. That first step can change your life.

As told to Emily Laurence

Next up, find out what you should never do if you want to live to be 100.