This 81-Year-Old Fitness Trainer Rejoined The Workforce After Retirement: ‘We Can Do More Than Most People Think We Can Do’

Fortune Well January 8, 2024

Lifestyle

This 81-Year-Old Fitness Trainer Rejoined The Workforce After Retirement: ‘We Can Do More Than Most People Think We Can Do’

On Monday and Friday mornings, you can find 81-year-old Harry King teaching workout classes and giving one-on-one training sessions at Planet Fitness in Greenville, South Carolina. Two years ago, King saw a help-wanted sign for a fitness trainer at his local gym, and the prospect of trying something new enticed him.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m in,’” King tells Fortune, who began the fitness trainer certification process at age 79 and applied for the position. “The rest is history.”

Exercise was always a part of King’s life, having cycled, hiked, and worked out at gyms over the years. These days, when King isn’t teaching classes, he’s exercising for 75 to 90 minutes about five times a week, focusing specifically on mobility and strength exercises. “I want to continue to move properly as I get older,” he says.  

He hopes his active routine challenges the assumption that older adults want to retreat or keep to themselves post-retirement. “Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we should sit in front of the TV and relax,” King says. 

 
Embracing a later-in-life pivot

King, a self-described people person, has always been eager to be around others because he loves the sense of community. He retired from corporate America in the mid-1990s after working as a senior VP of sales and marketing for an insurance company. He then served as an independent business coach to help people reach their professional goals. 

Trading his corporate jacket for athletic gear was a rather significant change, but King says this new stage pushes him to stay active while giving him the joy of connecting with others across generations. Albeit different from business advising, coaching still allows King to help people of all ages, from Gen Zers to Baby Boomers, reach their fitness goals. 

“I enjoy helping people, making sure they have the correct techniques on their fitness journey,” he says. “I want them to keep coming back, continuing that fitness journey.”

Encouraging people to adhere to proper form and technique is a critical part of King’s coaching—and something he knows is essential for himself as he ages. “We hear about people having falls, and it becomes pretty serious for an older person as they fall and break bones,” he says. “But we can strengthen that bone density through physical training.” Experts encourage older adults to prioritize strength training, such as using resistance bands or rucking to counter age-related muscle loss. 

King hopes his professional journey encourages retirement-age adults to be curious about continuing to work in a different capacity if desired—using their long-held skills and experiences to serve others. He says novel paths can be rewarding later in life and encourage people to follow their impulses when they find something intriguing. 

King feels lucky to have made his hobby into a later-in-life career. “A lot of seniors want to continue working or want to get back in the workforce. We’re living longer than we used to,” he says. 

He also has a message to employers across industries about ageist stereotypes: Keep an open mind. After all, with longer health and life spans come more years in the workforce and the potential for workers to carve out a new beat post-80. 

“Who would have thought that at 79 that I would start a new career? When I turn 85, what will I be doing then? I’m excited about it,” King says. “We can do more than most people think we can do.”


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