About a dozen women have gathered for a fitness class as their instructor guides them through the moves. “Backstroke!” – Jean Bailey shouts, leading from her chair with her arms in the air, the Washington Post reported.
Bailey, who is 102 and lives in an independent living apartment in a nursing home, has been exercising four times a week in the second-floor hallway for about three years. And she has no desire to slow down.
“When I get old, I’ll quit,” said Bailey, who has lived at the Elk Ridge home for about 14 years.
Some of her regulars have arthritis that limits their mobility, but they can do stretching exercises comfortably. Bailey is a tough trainer. One man has attended her workout sessions so far, but he passed away (not from the exercise, of course).
The 102-year-old started taking exercise classes in 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak hit and people were confined to their rooms. At the time, she was 99, the oldest even among Elk Ridge residents, but she wasn’t intimidated by the younger age of those around her.
She said she wanted to stay active and had always been good at motivating people, so she asked her neighbors to bring chairs out into the hallway to do simple exercises.
The workout sessions start at 9:45 a.m., so participants have time to get dressed and eat breakfast. Bailey teaches the 30-minute classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, which begin with an opening prayer. The group performs about 20 stretches on both the upper and lower body, including neck rolls, foot pecking and spiking, and various bends.
“You move every part of your body, absolutely, from your hands to your toes,” Bailey said.
The classes also deepened the friendships among the women. Bailey often treats participants to cake after the sessions when it’s someone’s birthday. At this age, she says, every birthday is a big deal.
Bailey’s age and resilience may stem from a life of hardship. Born in Wyoming in 1921, she grew up during the Great Depression. One of five children, Bailey was given to another family by her mother when she was 3, and grew up as an only child with his father, who worked on a railroad. Her family lived in Iowa and then Nebraska, where Bailey has lived ever since.
As a teenager, Bailey modeled for J.C. Penney. She married in 1942, but her husband, Loren Bailey, died in 1989. They had three children: son Bruce and daughters Pennyrae and Patty, who died of cancer at age 55. She has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
At Elk Ridge – which has about 145 residents living independently and 205 in need of care – residents can participate in fitness activities such as a walking club, tai chi and fitness.
Bailey inspires people because they look at her and think, “If she can do this at 102, I can do this at my age, whatever it is”.
Bailey – who volunteered in a hospital imaging department for more than 30 years – doesn’t know about any secret to longevity. She says that in her case a healthy diet and activity probably played a significant role. “I don’t believe in just sitting and watching TV,” Bailey explained.