A super-fit 69-year-old grandma who does ab crunches in her bikini by the pool and loves flaunting her toned body in crop tops is determined not to “become invisible” as she ages and is encouraging other oldies to exercise too.
Julie Ford, a lithe 5ft 4in and 8st 5lb part-time PE teacher, says she is determined to “look and feel as good in her 70s” as she did in her 20s – thanks to her love of exercise.
After overcoming breast cancer in her 60s, Julie also became a fitness entrepreneur by creating the walking resistance band Instepp.
Julie, who lives in Eastbourne, East Sussex, with her husband, Wimbledon tennis referee Jerry Armstrong, 67, wants to prove that you can still “look sexy” in your older age.
“I’ve done the ‘fabulous 50s’ and the ‘sexy 60s’ and now I am planning on doing the ‘super-fit 70s’,” she said.
“I tend to cover up my arms and legs now because it’s more sophisticated for my age but I always make sure I still look sexy wearing things like frilly crop tops.
“I have spent my whole life showing off my body, not because I am vain but because I feel good.”
From a very young age, Julie was always active.
“I was never very academic at school, I just always wanted to be running around outside,” she said.
“From around 11 years old, I knew I wanted to be a PE teacher.”
Studying PE at Eastbourne College at the age of 18, Julie found her first job as a sports teacher at Tideway School, in New Haven in 1976, and continues to teach PE to kids aged 13-18, part-time, between two and five days a week today Eastbourne College.
But even outside of school, Julie has always enjoyed taking part in sport.
“Outside of work, I taught Jane Fonda exercise classes in the 80s to adults, as well as playing hockey and netball, and running, cycling and walking,” she said.
“I still run, cycle and walk but I had to give up netball and hockey a few years ago because I was busy on the weekends.”
Having her son, Matthew Armstrong-Ford, 33, and daughter, Kristina Armstrong-Ford, 30, in her 30s, with her husband Jerry, when they were living in East Dean, Eastbourne, didn’t curb her love of fitness either.
“I kept working as a PE teacher but outside of school, I did weight training classes and dance classes,” she said.
“The kids would either join in or get dragged along to watch the netball and hockey matches with me!”
While Julie loved the ‘buzz’ of exercise, she also found it gave her great body confidence.
“I worked hard at being fit and healthy, so I could look good,” she said.
“I used to be known as the lady in the village who cycled everywhere with hardly any clothes on because I would only wear shorts and a crop top!”
In September 2016, aged 63, Julie was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer – but it didn’t hold her back.
“It was a routine mammogram appointment and they spotted something and called me back,” she said.
“When they said it was stage two breast cancer, I couldn’t believe it because I felt so healthy.”
Undergoing one month of radiotherapy, Julie said she was lucky to ‘breeze through’ her treatment.
“It’s still hard to believe I ever had cancer, because I felt so healthy throughout,” she said.
“I didn’t want to give up my job so I timed my treatment around the Autumn half term so I could keep going.”
While Julie got through her treatment relatively easily, her attitude to exercise did change.
She said: “When I went back to the gym, I just thought ‘I don’t want to be here’. Life is too short and I only wanted to be outside and make every day count.”
Swapping the gym for long-walks in the countryside, Julie realised she wanted something more – and began to experiment.
She said: “I wanted something to keep my upper body strong and toned so I tried using weights but by the end of the walk I would look like an orangutan, because my arms would be so tired from carrying the weights.
“So I dug around the garage and found some rubber resistance tubes and an old wetsuit and started trying to attach them to my shoes so I could hold them and create strain.
“I went through about 30 different designs over the year until I found the finished product.”
Impressed with her creation, which is designed to tone and strengthen the body when combining resistance with movement, Julie launched her versatile walking resistance bands in March 2018, named Instepp.
She said: “I was so excited that I had made something that was so good – you can walk with the bands or move with them at any time, in any place, whoever you are.
“I have used them by the sea in Croatia, or on a cliff’s edge in Cornwall or by a swimming pool in Mexico.”
Julie said her walking resistance bands have kept her in great shape.
“They often say once you get to 50, you become invisible but I make sure that I am not,” she said.
“I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb so I usually cover my arms and legs but I like to still look nice.
“My friends jokingly tell me they hate me and ask, ‘Why do you look so good?’
“I don’t know if I have just been blessed with aging well or if this is what comes from being positive – but I think, if you feel good, then you look good!”
With Julie’s 70th approaching in February 2023, she is making plans to celebrate in style.
“It’s weird thinking I’ll be 70 because I don’t feel it at all!” she said.
“We have a friend with a gondola from Venice and I have always loved masked balls so we may plan a masked ball in Stratford-upon-Avon for later in the summer.”
As well as being nominated as a pensioner personal trainer by Inspired Villages, the later living communities operator and developer in the UK, Julie is also looking forward to training up the next generation of her family, after becoming a grandma for the first time.
The mega-active granny said: “My granddaughter, Freyja, is only 13 months at the moment, so she’s not quite running around the place yet.
“But I can’t wait till I can take her out on the bike and she can walk or cycle with me.”
For more information about Instepp, go to: instepp.co.uk