Outgoing Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose has two words of advice for her successor in 2014: get fit.

Ita Buttrose’s advice for this year’s Australian of the Year is simple: get physical.

“I would suggest they start doing physical exercises right now,” says Ms Buttrose, 72, whose term comes to an end on January 26.

“You’ve got to be physically fit. You just reorganise your life and enjoy it.

“It’s a really wonderful experience.”

Ms Buttrose’s appointment capped a distinguished media career spanning four decades.

She shot to prominence as the founding editor of Cleo magazine in the 1970s, before being appointed editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

In 1980, she became the first female editor of The Daily Telegraph, and later The Sunday Telegraph.

Ms Buttrose has since worked to raise awareness of health issues such as breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer.

She has also been been national president of Alzheimer’s Australia since 2011, and in 2012 was the subject of a TV drama, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.

But despite the impressive CV, Ms Buttrose says being Australian of the Year was a unique challenge.

“I’m struck by how much interest there is in the community about the award,” she told AAP.

Ms Buttrose’s duties took her to all Australian capital cities in 2013, as well as to rural centres such as Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill.

She says she was struck most by the resilience and generosity of the thousands of people she met along the way.

“I’ve seen firsthand the way we can recover when things are crook. We can get ourselves back on our feet. We never doubt that we’ll be able to overcome a difficulty,” she said.

“I also think that the average Australian person is very charitable, to help someone try and get back on their feet.”

However, one area where the country needs to do better is ageism in the workforce.

She recalls the case of one 60-year-old man who applied for more than 200 jobs but didn’t get a single interview, despite his qualifications.

“When you tell someone over 50 they’re unemployable, you really crush their self-worth.

“Employers are making a terrible mistake in not really appreciating the wisdom and knowledge of older people.”

Ms Buttrose will now spend more time on other projects, such as her role on Network Ten morning show Studio 10.

But she’ll leave some time for post-Australian of the Year duties, just in case.

“I suspect there will be the odd assignment here and there. I’m told they never, ever actually let you go.”