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The Power of Lifting

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Written by Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by Taryn Emerick

If there’s one thing Penelope Livingston wants to shout from the rooftops, it’s that you can get really, really strong at any age. She especially wants to spread the message to other women.

“It’s truly unbelievable to me,” she says. “I never expected to feel so good and strong.”

At 65 years old, Livingston is in the best shape of her life. She lifts weights heavier than she ever imagined three to four times a week, has less body fat than ever before and is full of energy. Surprisingly, her path to peak fitness and an optimal body composition started less than a year ago.

“My motivation to get really fit in my 60s came from two places. The first is I have Alzheimer’s in my family,” Livingston says. Both her parents and sister suffered from the disease. “I know I can’t eradicate what might happen to me with my family history, but exercise is known to help the brain. That really motivated me in the recent past because I want to enjoy my life.”

Her other motivator was a few pairs of unworn jeans that sat in her closet for years—which she can now wear with comfort.

While Livingston had enough motivation, she says she has always had a complicated relationship with going to the gym. “I’m no gym rat,” she says.

Knowing this, through the decades she tried a few different trainers and routines, but nothing stuck for long. She also raised a family and enjoyed a 20-year career as a marriage and family therapist working for the Employee Assistance Program at the Boeing Company. So unfortunately, fitness wasn’t a priority. “It was hard for me to exercise, and I wasn’t prone to doing it,” she says.

Last year,  Livingston began working with Bellevue Club personal trainer Tyler Greer, and immediately knew something  was different this time. “I need it to be fun,” she says. “Of course a trainer has to have expertise, but it also has to be fun. I need it to be an enjoyable process. And that’s exactly what I get with Tyler. He’s been a great match for me.”

Both Livingston and Greer say one of the biggest keys to their success together is goal setting. “I wasn’t terribly overweight, maybe 10 pounds. I wanted to lose it, but more so I wanted to work on my posture and building muscle,” Livingston says.

Greer was more than happy to help Livingston set and reach those goals. His main focus in doing so was to teach her safe ways to build strength.

“It’s a mindset of wanting to stay functional and strong,” Greer says, “Penelope is deadlifting over 100 pounds, overhead pressing 40-plus—she’s doing a significant amount of weight for her size and age.”

He relies heavily on weight lifting because it is known to increase bone density, help maintain or gain muscle mass, and can correct imbalances in posture. “With weight lifting, you’re actually building up the body. Some cardio training is important too, but it doesn’t affect the body in the same way.”

In addition, Greer encouraged her think about nutrition.

“She cut out three things—sugar, butter and bread—and dropped 20 pounds of body fat very easily on a small frame,” he says. “And she’s done all this in under a year.”

Livingston is surprised how straightforward getting fit was, but says she couldn’t have done it without Greer’s help. It’s all about first making a commitment to yourself and then finding the right person to help you, she says.

“You are the only one that can decide you deserve to feel and look healthier right now. I hope I can be helpful to women and encourage them to give it a try. I don’t see myself as an athlete, but as someone who is motivated to enjoy the next chapter of my life. I wish I had come to exercise earlier in my life, but at least I’m here now.”

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