Billie Jean King’s Wellness Practices at Age 79

In 1973, Billie Jean King was busy. In the span of just a few months, the tennis legend won the famous Battle of the Sexes, founded the Women’s Tennis Association, completed the Wimbledon triple crown (winning the singles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles titles in the same year) and successfully fought for and won equal pay at the U.S. Open.

50 years later at age 79, King still has a lot going on. She’s an investor in a growing list of sports teams and leagues, including the National Women’s Soccer League’s Angel City FC, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the forthcoming Professional Women’s Hockey League. She still serves on the board of the influential Women’s Sports Foundation, which she founded in 1974. She recently launched a production company aimed at telling the stories of other game-changers like herself. And she’s a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Moderna, championing the importance of vaccination and other preventative health measures.

With all this and more keeping her busy with near-constant travel and engagements, Billie Jean King’s wellness practices are essential. And it’s more than just being up-to-date on her vaccines—though that’s key, too. King makes a point to move her body regularly, and even rediscovered her love for playing tennis recently. Here, she shares the wellness practices that keep her going.

Why she’s passionate about getting vaccinated

King strongly believe in focusing on prevention and keeping our bodies healthy in the first place. “This is one time we can help ourselves,” she says. “It’s important to consult with your doctor, but I’m big on it—I think I have six COVID vaccinations now. I’m up to steam. Especially since I’m older. I don’t feel old, but I’m older.”

The wellness lesson she learned from her mom

“I remember my mom, when she was in her early 80s, saying, Billie, keep moving, or it’s over,” says King. “She was absolutely correct. She would force herself to move—she started going to the gym, and lifting weights and doing stuff she’d never done.”

King says her mother had always been a really good swimmer, even though she never talked about it. “It was always about my dad’s prowess in sports, but my mother told me much later in life how she used to beat the boys running, and bodysurf 15-foot waves,” King says. “She was really brave when she was younger, and she kept pushing herself; she’d go to dance classes. Dancing is fun, but I don’t do that—I probably should start doing that. Whatever works—it’s about moving, and doing the best you can.”

How she got back into tennis

During the pandemic, King’s wife, fellow former tennis pro Ilana Kloss, suggested they hit a ball around to stay busy. “Once I hit one ball, I was off and running,” says King. Now, she’s back to playing tennis at least three times a week.

“It’s changed my life,” she says. “I’m so much happier—I look forward to it. Actually, I don’t look forward to it sometimes. It’s a lot of work. But once it’s over I’m so glad I did it. It’s so much fun to feel the ball against the strings; it’s really magical for me and it always has been since I was 11 years old. I think that helps me stay young.”

“It’s so much fun to feel the ball against the strings; it’s really magical for me.” —Billie Jean King

She says that playing tennis regularly also helps her emotionally and mentally. “One thing we tend to do as we age is say, I don’t want to do that, it takes too much effort. But I have to push myself. I’m trying my guts out. I can’t run more than, like, three feet—I’ve had so many knee operations—but I’m trying so hard.”

How she prioritizes sleep

Instagram may have you believe that having a “wellness routine” means going to bed early and waking up early, but King begs to differ. She’s not stingy about sleep—she gets at least eight hours a night—but she prioritizes it in a way that works for her. That usually means staying up until 1 am and sleeping in until 9.

“I try to move everything back and start later,” she says. “I do my best thinking when it’s quiet at night.”

How she’s empowering the next generation of advocates

Billie Jean King’s wellness practices also include her advocacy. As a very young tennis player, King realized how much inequality existed in her sport. “I didn’t know the word ‘platform’ in those days, but that’s what I was visualizing, that maybe somebody would listen to me. Maybe I can make the world a better place through sports,” she says. “Each generation has to fight really hard.”

She believes that now is the time for her to support the younger generation so that they can lead the fight. “I keep telling athletes that they need to understand the business, because most people do not,” she says. “We’ve got to make sure that we have not only a seat at the table, but a voice and a vote.”

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