Billie Jean King on Aging Well

Billie Jean King is an American icon, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, social justice advocate, tennis champion and Olympic delegate.

At 70 years old, she’s still actively involved as a co-founder of World TeamTennis, a professional tennis league. Active aging expert Colin Milner talked to King about her perceptions of aging, and what keeps her going strong.

Tennis star, Billie Jean King
International Council on Active Aging

Colin Milner: Let’s talk about aging. How do you personally define successful aging?

Billie Jean King: There’s so much emphasis on outer success today — looks or youth, for example. But I’ve found the one thing about being older is that I’ve had more years to observe and to experience [life].

I believe there are three things required for inner and outer success. First, relationships are everything. That means relationship with yourself and others. Next, keep learning. And, keep learning how to learn. With technology, you have to keep learning how to learn now — it keeps your brain active.

Also, be a problem solver. As humans, we’re solving problems daily…there’s pressure on us every day, and it’s how we respond or react to it.

Colin Milner: Sport seems to offer us many life lessons. Which ones do you think apply most to growing old and aging well?

Billie Jean King: Through my experience as a professional athlete, I learned to really encourage myself to think positively; stay in the solution, one ball at a time. Those [lessons] can be helpful, whether in business or in relationships. I also feel like people aren’t really engaged a lot of times, and that’s the most important thing: being in the now, being present…We need to pay attention to our dreams and goals, but the process of life is very important. Everybody thinks that holding up a trophy or something is the ultimate. It’s not. The journey is the ultimate.

Colin Milner: Be in the moment, no matter what the moment is?

Billie Jean King: Totally. Because when the ball is coming to you, you’ve got to pay attention, and you have to make a decision — and then you have to live with that decision. You learn the consequences because of that. Every ball I hit has a consequence. Every action we take in life has a consequence. That’s why it’s important to be in the moment and don’t take it lightly. You learn to adapt.

Colin Milner: Tell me your thoughts on being physically active as we age.

Billie Jean King: Active is a word I like. Active aging! Because we do age, whether we like it or not. — When I work out, for instance, I feel better. When I eat better, I feel better. We all know that from when we are born, we start decaying, but how do we keep that at bay? I think the best way is exercise, connections with others, and doing creative things. Sure we’re not quite as quick, not quite as strong. When I go to lift weights, I realize that I’m not lifting what I used to, but it doesn’t matter. The intensity from within is probably more in some ways. I have to work really hard to do what I probably did when I warmed up back in the old days, but it’s a great feeling to give so much of yourself. It’s important to bring all of yourself to something every day.

Colin Milner: Any other key lessons?

Billie Jean King: I think self-awareness is important…I know it’s very important to me as I age. Also… never underestimate the human spirit at any age. We all have our dreams, and we have to stay connected to them, though we may have to change and adapt our goals. We can keep reinventing ourselves, no matter what our age. I just think it’s important to keep going, because what choice do we have? I can be a complainer today, or I can pick myself up…We can do so many things at any age, and we don’t realize it.

Billie Jean King’s 10 Tips For Successful Aging

  1. Relationships are everything.
  2. Keep learning. Keep learning how to learn. Stay curious.
  3. Be in the moment and focus on the process. The journey is the ultimate prize.
  4. Be resilient and engaged in life. Keep moving or it’s over.
  5. Accept pressure as a privilege and face it head on.
  6. Be a problem solver. Champions in life adapt or adjust.
  7. Reinvent yourself on a regular basis.
  8. Exercise matters.
  9. Be a positive person.
  10. Never underestimate yourself, or those around you.

About the Writer

Colin Milner

Colin is CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and a leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult. For the past six years, the World Economic Forum has invited him to serve on its Network of Global Agenda Councils, recognizing him as one of "the most innovative and influential minds" in the world on aging-related topics.

Share this Article

Related Articles