Julia Bethea: 107 & still spry as a spring chicken

Huntsville

107-year-old Julia Bethea enjoys one of her bi-weekly sweat sessions at the Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center. (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – What’s your excuse? Too tired? Too busy? Too…old? Let’s face it: the season of packing pillowcases full of assorted sweets and glutting at holiday feasts is among us. Those new year’s resolutions are so far away and yet closer again by the day as Americans approach the time of year when opportunity for indulgence is ripe for the picking.

For those of us fortunate to have enough, end-of-the-year celebrations can be a time when health and fitness can sometimes take a back burner.

107-year-old Julia Bethea enjoys one of her bi-weekly sweat sessions at the Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center. (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)
107-year-old Julia Bethea enjoys one of her bi-weekly sweat sessions at the Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center. (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

But 107-year-old Huntsville woman Julia Stephen Bethea is a testament to keeping fitness a priority; any season and any age.

Bethea’s 84-year-old daughter Eleanor Eakins has been taking Miss Julia to bi-weekly workout sessions at the Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center for two years. Staff there are used to upper eighties, 91, even 98 — but a whopping 107 is impressive to even the most versed fitness coordinator.

“We think it’s unusual, too,” Bethea’s daughter admits. “But we encourage her to keep going and that’s what makes a difference.”

Born in 1907 in Coy, Al., the youngest of eight children, Bethea raised four of her own.  But activity is nothing new for Miss Julia. She drove until she was 100 when she took her first ever plane ride. She lives independently, maintains her home, cooks, tends a garden and enjoys regular exercise classes.

While Bethea can give any of her senior fitness enthusiasts a run for their money in the gym, she admits she prefers leg day to the arm day.

“I like to get my leg straightened out so I can be able to walk better,” she says. “That’s why I like to work more on my legs and get some strength in them. This way when I get up to walk I use short baby steps. I like to take just natural strides as though nothing is wrong with my legs.”

Bethea seems unfazed at the fuss everyone seems to make over her spryness at more than 100 years old.

“Well, as my pastor told me  — one time I told him that was just a number and he told me no, it’s more than a number — so I kind of feel the same way.”

It’s a study in staying with it no matter what. Bethea says she’ll continue exercising — humbly inspiring others in the process.

“Oh sure. I never want to stop exercising.”

“She’s going to keep on moving,” Eakins says of her mom. “She’s not going to stop.”

Julia Bethea will turn 108 in July.