Barb DeAngelis, 76, sees the stereotypes against older people exercising to stay strong, and she shatters them every chance she gets.
Not only does Barb love lifting weights and setting records, but she sees herself as a quality-of-life ambassador for other “little old ladies.”
Barb crushes the “frail grandma” idea one deadlift at a time at a gym in Vermont, where she lives. Barb says she does it to inspire other older women who have been told, “Be careful, Sweetie. You’ll hurt yourself.”
Her favorite T-shirt reads, “Old Ladies Lift.”
What’s behind her devotion? Barb was a physical therapist, so she knows how important exercise is. She started lifting weights almost four years ago. A bone-density test revealed age-related osteopenia. She was losing bone mass. The weightlifting has shut off the decline.
“They’ve done studies that show that weightlifting supports bone health, and you’re not talking about little dumbbells, we’re talking about a heavy weight that increases stress on your bone,” Barb says.
And she’s right. Resistance training improves bone density, keeps us strong to prevent falls, and improves mood, sleep, and lots more. And, no, it won’t make you look like a bulky young man.
“I look like every other little, old lady,” Barb points out.
Barb says she wants recognition as a “stealth bada**” – and she’s earned it. This summer at the USA Powerlifting Association event in Palm Springs, California, she set two world records for her age group.
“I wasn’t competing as much as I was representing,” Barb says – because no one else was in her age group, 75 and over.
Most people have more modest goals, of course, and that’s great. Barb and other weightlifting “little old ladies” are powerful motivators to help us all live better lives. They remind us that being fit improves quality of life – and maintains your independence.
“When you have independence,” barb says, “you have a different mental attitude than when you need help from other people.”
Before she started lifting, Barb said she had trouble navigating sidewalks and stairs, and was beginning to fall.
“If you don’t keep your strength up, you lose function, you lose balance, you lose joint mobility, and little by little you’re chipping away at your active and functional life. There is a wheelchair waiting for every one of us. And the point is to stay the hell out of it.
“I used to stumble and fall but not now. I can catch my balance. And every time you don’t fall you don’t risk a significant injury.”
Barb urges everyone to exercise and to practice strength training, which also includes yoga, body weight, and smaller weights than Barb fancies. Her advice: Use a trainer to get coaching on form to make sure you’re doing it properly and avoiding injury.
“I’m just a 5-foot tall, little old lady,“ she says. “And I just really want to get other little old ladies involved.”
We’re here for that, Barb!
Holly Kouvo is a personal trainer, functional aging specialist, senior fitness specialist, brain health trainer, writer, and speaker.