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Billie Jean King on new knees and boomer fitness

By Melissa Murphy

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 27 2011 5:18 p.m. MDT

NEW YORK — Billie Jean King is back playing tennis in Central Park with gusto after double-knee replacement surgery. And at 67, she's encouraging all ages — especially baby boomers — to exercise and stay fit.

But she also says it's OK to forgive yourself if you can't match the workouts you did when you were young.

King, who inspired a generation of women and men to pick up a racket in the 1970s, didn't play tennis for nearly two years before getting new knees. She needed about a year of rehabilitation, working out for 2½ hours, five days a week to regain the strength and range of motion to get back on the court.

When the pain was intense, she imagined "a bright, sunny day in my head. And I pictured hitting the first tennis ball again."

King realized that goal last year at Wimbledon, four months after surgery. She sneaked onto Court 16 and hit a few shots with friend Roz Fairbank while her partner Ilana Kloss snapped pictures.

This year, King celebrates the 50th anniversary of her first Wimbledon doubles victory. She went on to win a record 20 Wimbledon titles in singles, doubles and mixed, and on Monday, she was photographed at Wimbledon sitting behind Prince William and Kate Middleton in the Royal Box.

To stay in shape these days, the 39-time Grand Slam winner heads to the neighborhood gym and public tennis courts. She doesn't use a personal trainer because she travels so much, hitting the hotel gym instead. She recently traveled in a two-week span to Philadelphia, back to New York, then to Washington, D.C., while promoting her World Team Tennis league, which features Serena and Venus Williams, 52-year-old John McEnroe and other stars in nine cities from July 4-24.

Here King shares her insights on working out, the proper mental approach and diet. Her advice for boomers? Increase the frequency, lower the intensity and listen to your body.

—What is your exercise routine?

King: "My age group should do a half-hour, five days a week. What that means is I'm walking, doing the bike, lifting weights or playing tennis. I love it when Ilana and I go to Central Park and play tennis. It's fantastic. I go to Equinox to do lower and upper body stuff. Do a lot for my back — I need to be doing a lot for my core. I do the leg presses, the leg curls, abductor and adductor. I have a bike at home, so worse comes to worst, that's my backup. I'll turn on the TV and pedal."

—This was your eighth knee surgery. What was life like before the double-knee replacement?

King: "I got to the point I couldn't even walk two blocks. I had my first operation at 23 when I was No. 1 in the world, and it's been downhill ever since in terms of function. I used to take a taxi (two blocks) to get to my workout. My life was closing in on me. It kept getting less and less, and then it was really getting disheartening. Now I'm pain-free, if I want to play tennis or take a walk in the park. I'm going through this mindset change now. It's amazing. My first knee-jerk reaction is 'Oh, I can't — oh, yes I can do that.' I can go up and down stairs. I wouldn't be able to do that a year ago."

—How has your thinking and approach to fitness and exercise changed over the years?

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