Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

- Advertisement -

At the age of 102, she teaches fitness classes 4 days a week: ‘When I get old, I’ll stop’


About a dozen women have gathered for their fitness class as their instructor walks them through the moves.

“Backstroke!” Jean Bailey directs from her chair, her arms raised high, as the women of Elk Ridge Village Senior Living in Omaha quickly begin arm rotations.

Everyone is doing their very best, as Bailey expects.

Bailey, who is 102 and lives in the self-contained living quarters of the facility, has been teaching classes four times a week in the second-floor hallway for about three years. She doesn’t feel like slowing down.

“When I get old, I’ll stop,” says Bailey, who has lived in Elk Ridge for about 14 years.

Some of her regulars have arthritis that limits their movements, but they can do the stretches comfortably and benefit from them, said Bailey, who often uses a walker herself.

Still, she says, she is a tough coach.

“They used to tease me and say I’m mean because when we do exercises, I want them to do it right and use your muscles,” she said.

But not too mean. People wouldn’t keep showing up if they didn’t enjoy it.

“The girls seem to realize what I’m going to do for them,” she said. “It’s for me too.”

One man attended the sessions, but he passed away. Now they are all women.

Jean Bailey’s fitness class takes place four days a week at her retirement home in Douglas, Neb. (Video: Elk Ridge Village Senior Living)

She started the exercise classes in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic started and people were isolated in their rooms.

She was then 99 years old, a senior even among the residents of Elk Ridge. But she wasn’t intimidated by the younger ages of the residents around her.

She wanted to stay active, she said, and she’s always been good at motivating people, so she invited her neighbors to bring chairs into the hallway for some socially distanced, simple exercise.

“I really feel that if you’re not engaging your mind and body, then why are you here?” Bailey said.

The residents enjoyed it so much, they never stopped.

Sessions start at 9:45am, which gives participants time to get dressed and have breakfast. Bailey teaches the 30-minute classes on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday and begins with an opening prayer. The group does about 20 types of stretches for both the upper and lower body, including neck rolls, pointing and bending feet, and bending over to touch the floor.

“You absolutely move every part of your body, from your hands to your toes,” Bailey said.

The lessons have deepened the friendships between the women.

“We got pretty close on our floor,” she said. “One of us would do something for everyone. We really keep an eye on each other.”

His bank card was declined. A stranger stepped forward and now they are “friends for life.”

Phyllis Black, 87, lives down the hall from Jean and enjoys the fitness classes; skipping them makes her feel stiff, Black said.

When Black moved to Elk Ridge about 3½ years ago, Bailey greeted her with some homemade cookies and two tomatoes from a relative’s garden.

Bailey often treats visitors to baked goods after sessions when someone has a birthday. At this age, she said, all birthdays are important.

“She’s a very nice neighbor, and she’s also a good friend,” Black said of Bailey. “She’s very talented.”

Bailey’s longevity and resilience come from a life of hardship. Born in 1921 in Wyoming, she grew up during the Great Depression. Bailey’s mother, one of five children, gave her away to another family when she was 3, and she grew up an only child with a father who worked on a railroad. Her family lived in Iowa, then Nebraska, where Bailey has lived ever since.

As a teenager, Bailey modeled for JC Penney. She married in 1942, but her husband, Loren Bailey, died in 1989. They had three children: son Bruce, daughter Pennyrae, and daughter Patty, who died of cancer at age 55. She has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

When her children were young, Bailey was a stay-at-home mom, but she later became a florist – a practice she still enjoys as a hobby.

She buys artificial flowers and makes bouquets for the clubhouse and some residents. She also helps deal during Blackjack games.

Laura Stuart, who until recently was the lifestyle director at Elk Ridge, calls her the “queen bee.”

“She brings her expertise to the floral arrangements and always creates beautiful arrangements,” said Stuart. “She brings that to us, and it’s just a godsend that she’s still here with us to do even such an intricate kind of flower arrangement.”

She said that Bailey does everything with all her heart.

He broke off their engagement in 1963. Sixty years later they tied the knot.

At Elk Ridge — home to about 145 independently living residents and about 205 in assisted living and memory care — residents can participate in fitness activities such as a walking club, tai chi, and work out in a gym. But the Bailey ladies seem to prefer her class for her warm and fun personality and the gentleness of the stretches for people with mobility issues, says Sean Tran, operations director at Elk Ridge.

“More than anything, her overall outlook on life…is just remarkable,” he said of Bailey. “She’s the nicest, most considerate, caring person I’ve probably ever met.

“Nothing will stop her,” Tran said. “She keeps going no matter what.”

Bailey, he said, 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 spent more than 30 years volunteering in a hospital’s imaging department — isn’t sure what the formula is for her longevity. She said eating a healthy diet and staying active probably played an important role.

“I really don’t know,” Bailey said, still washing and ironing her own clothes. “I think it’s because God isn’t ready for me. I have to keep busy.

“I don’t believe in just sitting and watching TV,” Bailey said.

But age has its privileges.

“I’m pretty good at naps right now,” she said with a laugh.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.