Tennis Star Chris Evert's Secrets for Staying Fit in Your 50s

The tennis pro talks muscles, milk and making time for fitness

It seems like women’s tennis nets more attention for the teeny outfits than the powerful moves being executed in them. With the Open in full swing, we had the opportunity to sit down with tennis great Chris Evert, who continues to hold the best career winning percentage in the history of pro tennis. By the time she retired in 1987 Evert won 1576 tournament titles, including 18 Grand Slams. The 55-year-old International Tennis Hall of Famer, mom to three teenage boys and Spokesperson for Hood Simply Smart Milk spoke with NeverSayDiet:

How has your fitness routine changed since you played pro?
I started playing tennis at age six and retired at age 34. I wasn’t going to just rest on my laurels and stop exercising. It’s a mental thing for me: The endorphins secreted and released from your brain put you in better mood, clear your mind. It was never as much about looking great as much as it was about feeling great. I exercise a good five days a week, whether it’s tennis, hot yoga, light weights. That’s really cut back from when I was competing and working out three to four hours a day.

You don’t have to put in an hour, though -- every minute counts. Get a treadmill and put in 20 minutes a day before or after work. There’s really no excuse. I bought a few of my son’s teachers treadmills, because I kept hearing them say, "Oh, I’m up at 7 a.m., get off at 3, then have to do work at home. I don’t have time to go to a gym." You can go for a brisk walk, jump rope, lift five to eight-pound weights. I think women over 40 should concentrate a little more on weights because you start to lose muscle. I’m 55 and certainly look different than when I was 25. Having kids, my body has changed. But I still feel good and strong.

What about your eating routine?
Nutrition is very important to me, but I do splurge. I’ll have a glass of cold, chilled white wine at night, a bag of French fries once a month, pizza once every two weeks with my boys. You only live once, right? I feel like I can counteract it with exercise and sleep. As long as I eat well and exercise, it all balances out. I’m also a big skim milk drinker.

You were known for your perfectionism and the intense mental energy you applied to your game. Now that you’re no longer a pro tennis player, what area of your life gets the most attention and mental energy?
At 36, I started having children and put my passion, focus and emotions right into raising children. Raising teenagers is a challenge! After they leave the nest, I’ll probably be lost and will go to Plan B. I do a lot of charity work and host a charity tennis event in November -- the Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic at the Delray Beach Tennis Center -- that has raised over $18 million for drug abuse prevention. I think being of service to others is very important to me because I went through a very self-absorbed period where I was trying to be number 1 in the world.

What is your Evert Tennis Academy doing to combat the childhood obesity problem?
Kids at any tennis academy are going to be physically fit because they’re playing three to four hours a day. But with computers and emailing and Twitter, kids are more inactive. I think it’s up to the parent. Get them involved in sports -- tell them, “You have to be involved in a sport, period.” Soccer, lacrosse, whatever. It’s a parental responsibility. Encourage your kids to do [active] things together -- play golf with them, go swimming at the beach together.

Did your kids ever have a weight problem?
No. Their father was an Olympic skier (two-time Olympic downhill skier Andy Mill.) I’m their mother. So knock on wood, I have three very fit kids with good genes. They’re very active, playing extreme sports, skateboarding, snowboarding, tennis.

What’s a favorite family meal at your house?
We’ll do barbeque chicken with a baked potato and broccoli or salad. I cook a lot of chicken, turkey, stir-fry, turkey burgers and steamed veggies with a little bit of butter to make them taste good.

Did you see The New York Times video gallery, showcasing scantily-clad tennis greats like Kim Clijsters in slow motion?
 I haven’t seen it, but women’s tennis players have beautiful, strong bodies. In my days, the 70s, people weren’t too sure -- muscles had a masculine connotation. But to be strong is beautiful, and [muscles are] a wonderful attribute.

In the past few days at U.S. Open, Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams have received attention for their risqué outfits. What are your thoughts?
I think it’s great, as long as they cover themselves. The important thing is that they’re comfortable. I didn’t think Venus looked comfortable out there with all that glitter. She kept pulling her outfit down.
What do you think of the argument that they’re exploiting themselves?
Are ice skaters exploiting themselves? Look at their outfits. Or volleyball players?

During last year’s Wimbledon, looks trumped skill when it came to which women played on the center courts. The unseeded world number 45, Gisela Dulko of Argentina,  played on Centre Court last week; World No 59 Maria Kirilenko of Russia did, too. But number 5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia was relegated to Court 1; Number 2 seed Serena Williams of the USA was on Court 2. What did you think of the controversy?
That’s society. Sex sells, beauty sells, youth sells. It’s bad in a lot of ways, but it’s the reality of the situation. It brings in money. I can understand both sides of it -- tennis is big business now. Women should be known for their talent, but you’re at the mercy of the tournament. And if they’re going to sell more tickets at center court if there’s an attractive girl there, they’re going to do it. It gives you more incentive to play well because if, at the end of the week, you will be on center court if you make it to the semi finals, your talent will override everything. 

What’s the best way for parents to act on the sidelines? 
It’s important to be encouraging to your kids. Even if they’re losing or frustrated, you don’t want to show them you are. Charge them up, give them a high five, clap for them. You need to be a supportive parent. They’re feeling the pressure and when they look over, you want to be a source of support.
OK, just for fun, pick one:
Madonna or Lady Gaga? Lady Gaga
Sugar or Splenda? Sugar
Skinny jeans or mini skirt? Skinny jeans
Project Runway or The Real Housewives? Ugh. Project Runway.
Man grunt or woman scream?   Neither -- I don’t like either. 

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