It’s pretty impressive when, after years in a specific industry, someone decides to do an about-face and follow a crazy dream or a long-buried passion. It’s even more impressive when that career switcheroo requires totally overhauling one’s nutrition and exercise habits.
The inspirational role models below came to careers in fitness via many different pathways but share one thing in common: They all landed in the fitness world after blowing out 50 candles on their birthday cakes. Here are their stories.
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Certified personal trainer
Certified at: 52
Current age: 53
“I was an athlete in high school and college, but I didn’t really understand the importance of healthy eating. As I got older, I ate the same and became a little more sedentary. I still worked out, but I gained weight over the years, getting up to about 250 pounds. Then, in June 2015 at age 51, I signed up for an employee fitness challenge at work, where I’m the CFO. I lost 31 pounds in nine months and felt better than I did in my 20s.
The challenge at work inspired me to learn even more about exercise and healthy eating, so I decided to get certified as a personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine in November 2016. Suddenly coworkers and family members were asking me to help craft workout routines for them. I’m currently training about half a dozen people, including our CEO and one other employee at our office. (I’m substantially older than both of them!)
I love helping other people and really try to be accessible. People think, ‘If Wes can do it, I can do it.’ Our CEO has lost 30 pounds since he started working with me in January and our supply chain manager has gained five inches of muscle on his biceps. (Use these moves to tone your arms without doing a single bicep curl.)
Meanwhile, I’ve remained focused on my own health. I typically do four days of resistance training and two days of cardio. I’ll use a stationary bike or elliptical, or go hiking around my home in Southern Utah. I also cut out pretty much all processed, fast, and fried food and eat more fruit, vegetables, and lean, organic protein.
Many people make excuses based on their age, and if they do exercise they tend to skip strength-training—but it’s really important for keeping muscles and bones strong as you get older. Don’t let age limit you. People do amazing things in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond.”
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Certified Spin, PiYo, and Barre instructor
Certified at: 51
Current age: 53
“I had been very active growing up, riding horses and bikes, but as the years went on and I went through a stressful divorce the pounds piled on. By my mid-40s I was 200 pounds and became depressed. I knew something had to change, so I decided to join a gym. I watched people lifting weights and thought, ‘I have no idea how to do that!’—but I wanted to learn. I hired a personal trainer and fell in love with lifting. The pounds melted away, I slept better at night, and I started making friends at the gym. It brought back my self-confidence. (If you’re over 40 and want to lose weight, you need to do these 6 things.)
Soon after, I tried a Spin class and started riding my bike outside again. I remember thinking, ‘I absolutely love this! I should share my passion with everyone!’ So I signed up for Spin certification and shortly after PiYo certification at my local YMCA. Just this month, I obtained my Barre certification.
(You can sculpt your arms and tighten your tummy with the energizing—and fun—routines from Prevention‘s Flat Belly Barre!)
I love teaching fitness and seeing the excitement on participants’ faces, especially if it’s their first time in my class. Sometimes newcomers are worried that they won’t be able to keep up, but I tell them we’ll do it together. I think it’s motivating for beginners to see someone their age—or older—leading the group.
I still work full-time as a hospital referral coordinator, but being a fitness instructor just does something for my soul. I don’t think I’m old, but I’m older than a lot of people you’ll see at the gym. People think I’m kidding when they find out my age. I say, ‘That’s what fitness does!'”
Certified personal trainer
Certified at: 67
Current age: 70
“I used to sit down and eat a box of donuts and drink a milkshake without a second thought. But after my first wife passed away in 2001, I started exercising to get through the grieving process—and then began changing my diet as well. (This is how your brain reacts to losing a loved one.) I got quite fit and started getting tons of compliments, and it became a cycle: The more in shape I got, the more compliments I got, the more I wanted to get fitter! I’m now 153 pounds at 5 feet 9 inches and have a 30-inch waist.
In 2010, I relocated for work from New York City to Nashville, and my wife stayed in Manhattan. When I was alone in Nashville I had lots of time to work out. I had developed a real passion for fitness and decided I wanted to pass it on, so I pursued personal training certification in 2014 through the American Council on Exercise. It added a whole new dimension to my life.
I’m back in New York City now, working with a handful of clients ages 35 to 65. Rather than aim for weight loss, we focus on functional capabilities to travel, to play with kids and grandkids, to be able to lift a suitcase up into the overhead compartment on a plane.
Weight training, especially in the first six months, can produce some very real change. Pants fit better—I love to see that. But it’s less important how we—older trainers or trainees—are perceived than how we feel within ourselves. Are we healthy? Energetic? Less stressed? I bring empathy to the issues folks have at this age. I can’t be a ‘no pain, no gain’ type of trainer.
I’m still employed with a hospital management company, but when I retire from that field I’ll go into personal training full time. I’m not in it for the money; simply the enjoyment.”
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Certified personal trainer, triathlon coach, cycling coach
Certified at: 52
Current age: 60
“About 10 years ago, I realized I was aging out of my job as a digital business development executive, and I figured I’d soon need a way to keep working and not be broke in my 60s. I was already a bit of an athlete—in my mid-40s I took up cycling and got into triathlons, and I taught myself to skate so I could play ice hockey in my early 50s. When my marriage ended and my son went off to college, I had more free time and decided now was my chance to get a fitness business off the ground.
I kept working in digital while I became a triathlon coach on the side; I felt there weren’t enough coaches who were close to my age. Next I did cycling coach certification, followed by personal training with NASM. I rented gym space from a warehouse, and my first clients were my friends, who were all my age. I went on to get certified at more advanced levels in all of these specialties, including corrective exercise, which is great for working with my late 40s to 60s crowd.
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I ended up being laid off at 56, so the last four years I’ve been in the fitness business full time, and I’ve made a living every year. There are more trainers and coaches here in Los Angeles than you can shake a stick at, but I think being older has helped me. I’m not as intimidating as younger trainers can be. I’m also a little more pragmatic; I’m keen to make sure no one gets hurt. I just had a hip replacement myself, so I know first-hand that clients might have limitations.
I really try to understand what each client wants to achieve, whether it’s losing weight, recapturing the spirit of competition from their youth, or just escaping from home or work in a healthy way. I think my job’s well done when they come away smiling.”
Certified personal trainer, wellness coach, and gerontologist
Certified at: 56
Current age: 61
“I practiced law for 23 years and was a total workaholic. But by age 49, I was burned out. The paycheck was great, but that’s it. I’d come home from the office unable to separate my work and personal lives; I’d boss my husband around and he would say, ‘I’m not your secretary!’ I felt like my job was ruining my marriage, and my marriage would bring me more long-term happiness, so I chose my marriage and gave up practicing law.
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I didn’t get into fitness immediately, though. First, I went back to school online to study gerontology and ended up teaching at a community college online. I really loved it, but I struggled to make a living. One day it finally dawned on me that I’d always been active, and people were constantly asking my advice about taking care of themselves. Why not turn that into a career? Sometimes I can’t believe it took me until 56 to figure out that this was my purpose.
I decided to get certified in personal training, then in wellness coaching and nutrition. I don’t work at a gym; I meet clients—who range from 17 to 87—in my home office, and we map out a fitness plan that they can do anywhere. Exercise is an absolute necessity for health and longevity, but many clients come to me too sedentary or overweight to do anything too strenuous right away, so we’ll talk about nutrition and I start them on a walking program. (No excuses! Here’s how you can walk your way to the life you want.)
I’m a lot more realistic than if I were doing this in my 20s—I probably would have told everyone to sign up for marathons! I realize people are all very different, and bodies are all very different. Personally, I’m a gym rat. I go to the gym seven days a week at 5 AM, even on vacation.
I’ve had my own wellness practice for about the last five years, and it really is my passion. If I can help somebody get off medication or drop weight or get his or her body moving, I’m happy. I love to see people take control of their health. I really think feeling good should be the ultimate goal. Who cares if you live to 120 if you don’t feel good?”
Sarah Klein is a Boston-based writer, editor, and personal trainer currently with LIVESTRONG.com, and previously of Health.com, Prevention magazine, and The Huffington Post. She’s the graduate of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.