When Ellen Ector turned 40, looking at a photo a friend had snapped proved an instant wake-up call. As she tells it, struggling in her marriage, drinking too much and sleeping too little had taken a toll on not only her looks but also her health. In search of a major wellness shift, she quit her job as a social worker and moved to Atlanta to pursue her dream of opening what’s now her own gym. Now 68, Ector (@ellenectorfit) is CEO of Gymnetic Fitness, which she operates with her youngest daughter and inspires 175,000 Instagram followers. Here’s her best advice and inspiration for transforming our health one “baby step” at a time.
Schedule fitness first. You put the weight on; you’re not going to lose it in a month or in the two weeks before your birthday. You have to work weight loss into your lifestyle. There is no quick fix with fitness. Personally, I find that getting my fitness out of the way first thing in the morning works best. Then I’m happy the rest of the day.
Mix up how you move. I teach two kettlebell classes a week and take three more classes a week, such as Zumba with weights or yoga and meditation classes. I also like to run, swim and bike. It’s so easy to go out your front door and just run. You don’t have to belong to a gym. Or you can just walk. Walking is just as good.
I find that getting my fitness out of the way first thing in the morning works best. Then I’m happy the rest of the day.
Make wellness a family tradition. My daughter and I started a plant diet in 2017. We are trying to break these generational health curses. About 4 out of 5 African American women are obese or overweight. My mom was overweight, and she died of uterine cancer. I remember reading her medical report and reading, “A 62-year-old African American woman with uterine cancer who was obese.” It hurt me so bad. I thought, I'm not going to go out like that.
Take a good look at bad habits. I haven't had a drink since May 17, 1994. Not one drop of alcohol, because I became aware that I was powerless over alcohol. If I had one drink, I would probably have another.
Power your day with plant-based fuel. Breakfast: I might have oatmeal, some fruit or a smoothie. My favorite is the Smooth Operator. I make it with spinach, kale, strawberries, blueberries and avocados.
Lunch and dinner: I eat a variety of lettuces and vegetables. I like broccoli, collard greens, tomatoes, avocados. I love sweet potatoes. I put a sweet potato in the oven, then top it with spinach or baked beans.
Don’t “weight” to try resistance training. My first time in the gym, I remember running and walking around the track, taking baby steps, and a guy there told me, “You're not going to lose weight unless you start lifting weights.” He wasn’t an instructor, but I followed his instruction to a T, and he became a good friend. He had me join a running club, the Black Marathoners Association in Cleveland, my hometown. There were only two women in the group, and we became the first African American women to run a marathon in Cleveland.
Find out your health stats — stat! African American women are leading statistics in cancer, diabetes, strokes, all sorts of things. It’s very important for African American women to know our numbers, know what your blood pressure is, know what your weight is. I did break the generational health curse. I’ve taught all my kids how to eat healthy and work out and stay on the healthy journey.
Editor’s note: Get more great advice from fitness influencers at aarp.org, from which we adapted Ector’s story.