Rosemary wears a medal and smiles at the camera

Rosemary's Story

Rosemary Mallace was sporty in school and apart from what she describes as “the sex, drugs and rock and roll period of my twenties”, exercise has always been a big part of her life. 

Now 73, she is a passionate advocate for older people exercising, and regularly sharing her advice in the media and on her Strong After Sixty YouTube channel. In spring 2024 she’ll be running her fifth marathon, and her story is a fantastic case study in how rejecting ageist assumptions can improve lives.

I refuse to believe that there will come a time when I can't run. I'm going to die with my trainers on.

Rosemary Mallace remembers the time she attended an event where a room full of younger people were discussing how to get older people exercising. “I stood up and said ‘Well, this is all very well and good but looking around this room, I'm the only older person here. Why don't you ask older people what would make them want to exercise?’ 

“Then I asked how many knew what the government guidelines on exercise were and how many followed them. Only a few hands went up. I said, ‘You are apprentice old people. Hopefully one day you will be old. If you are not prepared to do the exercise now, why would you expect older people to suddenly want to exercise?’”

Although she wasn’t afraid to hold that room to account, Rosemary does agree that exercising in older age needs some positive PR in some quarters: “You get two schools of thought, the ones who are starting to stiffen up and think ‘I better do something about this’ and the other that says ‘oh, it's old age, it's inevitable’. 

It’s the second group that interests her and who she targets with her Strong After Sixty classes on YouTube. 

Rosemary's lightbulb moment

Shortly before leaving full-time employment Rosemary had what she calls her lightbulb moment. “I had joined a gym and I was having my induction and I heard an old chap next to me say to the instructor ‘oh, it's alright for you young people, you don't understand the aches and pains those older people have’.”

She realised that older people would benefit from having personal trainers closer to their own age. A retirement plan was hatched. 

Post-retirement she spent three months working towards her Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification. At 60 she was the oldest on the course. Most were in their late teens, twenties and thirties. 

After qualifying she started running classes and developed quite a Twitter (now X) presence. She became a “go to person” in in her home city of Manchester when the media or community groups were looking for a voice or ambassador for older people’s fitness. She’s also done national media work, appearing on Woman’s Hour and Steph’s Packed Lunch. 

It’s not a fulltime job though: “I enjoy my free time more than I need to earn money!” A lot of that free time is spent training for marathons. The fifth is around the corner in April 2024. 

A life-long passion

Rosemary describes running as central to her life: “I refuse to believe that there will come a time when I can't run. I'm going to die with my trainers on.”

Mum to four daughters, she started running when her youngest two (twins!) were 12 months old. “It was something that I could do for me. There wasn't somebody at my heels going mummy, mummy, mummy.” 

That was almost forty years ago and while the motivation was once about having precious time alone, it’s now about ageing well. “I am absolutely terrified of losing my independence.”

Although a love of sport has been a big part of her life for almost as long as she can remember, she realises it is not the same for everyone: “I was never in the position of not being picked for the school sports team, I was always the one doing the picking. Some people have a fear of exercise entrenched in school though.”

“But it's never too late to start exercising. People get to a certain stage and think they should put their feet up. But you shouldn't. That is the last thing you should be doing unless you're standing on your shoulders doing yoga. It's even more important that you exercise when you're older.”

On the radio someone was described as an 85-year-old grandmother, but men are not described 85-year-old grandfathers. So me as a 73 year old grandmother gives (and I'm being ageist now!) a picture of a little white haired old lady sitting by the fire knitting. Language matters.