A Healthy Living Poster Child

Featured Article, Fitness, Healthy Living, News and Advice
on August 1, 2010
Dan Bishop

When Julia Dean goes to a neighborhood cookout, you won't find her settling down for a game of cards after dinner. "If there is music and a place to dance, that's what I do," says the retired school administrator and mother of two daughters from Milwaukee, Wis. Julia's family and friends know her as a veritable poster child for a youthful, healthy life, a life that this slender 61-year-old has created on her own terms. Never a big fan of the gym ("too much distraction," she says), Julia has made her home a haven for exercise, and has barely skipped a day for the past 44 years. "After I've had a good workout, I feel like I can tackle anything," she says. "I stand up taller. I'm happy."

Her penchant for fitness traces back to college in 1966, when she became interested in ballet, but was discouraged from pursuing it. "I was told I didn't have the right body structure," she says. She gave up that dream, but didn't let it slow her down. "I knew I could still dance and make my own fun," she says.

A few years later, Julia discovered the dual mind and body benefits of yoga, and she's been hooked ever since. (No need for classes, she's memorized the sequences she taped off a public television show years ago.) Every morning at 5:30, like clockwork, she wakes and practices a few poses. "It is very peaceful then, and I can concentrate. It sets the tone for the day," she says.

But she doesn't stop there. Her home is filled with an array of strength-training equipment, a treadmill, a bike and a mini-trampoline, all of which see regular use. "I keep a variety, so there's never any boredom," she says. And she walks every weekend with a former colleague or with her 10-year-old grandson.

The payoff is visible, and then some: Her weight and dress size have held steady since high school, and at every annual checkup, her numbers have never budged from the safe range. "I make my doctor's day," she says, laughing.

Over the years, Julia has watched family members become sedentary with age, and struggle with diabetes and high blood pressure, two conditions unfortunately not uncommon in African-Americans. That has only strengthened her determination to pass the fitness passion along to her grandson.

"He's crazy about me, she says, "and he'll come over and work out to impress me."

And her own youthful energy and healthy track record is enough to keep her committed to daily workouts. "i don't want to be broke-down," she says. "I think that you can be 70 and still jump rope, wear a bikini, if you take care of yourself."

Plus, as she tells her friends, over time, small acts can make a big difference. Whether it means parking the car and walking instead of being dropped off at the door of a restaurant, or choosing the stairs over the elevator, Julia is constantly looking for ways to keep moving.

And that will always include the occasional impromptu dance party, as when, just for kicks, she dons a favorite outfit from back in the day, and dances while her music-connoisseur husband, Louis, spins their favorite oldies. "It's a little spice of life for us," she says.

Julia's tips for boosting motivation

  • Flaunt flattering photos.
    Julia keeps photos of her slender, shapely self in sight to remind her that her hard work has paid off.
  • Don't hide your gear.
    Keep dumbbells and other items out in the open as a reminder to use them. "Some people have plants and pictures; I have my exercise equipment," Julia says.
  • Pick the right time.
    For Julia, first thing in the morning is her sacred time: no distractions, peace and quiet. Not a morning person? Not a problem. "I tell my friends, ¨Pick the time that works for you,'" she says.
  • Gather resources.
    Keep clippings of inspiring magazine articles in a binder, and refer to them frequently for a motivational pick-me-up.
  • Add music.
    Julia keeps her energy up during treadmill and trampoline workouts with a soundtrack of favorite songs. "It gets you going," she says.


Julia with husband, Louis, taking a stroll along the beach.