Heading back to their seats during an exercise session, Jean Eason turned to her husband of nearly 70 years and patted his back: “Isn’t this like ‘The Wedding March’?” she asks.
Jean and William Eason, both 90, are the oldest members of their class, although another member is not far behind, at 88.
The couple began attending exercise classes at 80, when the Silver Sneakers program, a senior fitness regimen that includes fitness classes and pool access, became a benefit on their health plan.
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Anne Graff, the group fitness instructor for the seniors citizens class, said exercise helps older people maintain a functional lifestyle.
In addition to physical fitness, her class includes brain fitness exercises, such as quickly picking out the vowels in a list of words and seeing word patterns. There also is cardio, strength training and balance work.
The socialization aspect of the class also is important, Graff said, as it provides older citizens with a peer group.
“They maintain that accountability, so there are no excuses for not exercising,” she said.
The class at the Charles Young gym, which meets at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is free.
At the gym, Jean Eason can do all the exercises the group leader suggests, which one day includes wall push-ups and chair routines with balls, bands and light hand weights.
William Eason stays closer to the chair and participates when he can. He used to do more, but he has recently been diagnosed with spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the open spaces in the spine, a painful condition that limits his movement.
“I don’t know how she has put up with me for 70 years,” he said once his wife was out of earshot.
The couple celebrate their 70th anniversary on Aug. 17.
They met as children in Lexington and married when he returned from Army duty in the Pacific after World War II. (“Imagine, World War II,” she murmurs, casting back into a marriage as long as a lifetime.)
They were married in Cynthiana by the same man who had officiated at her mother’s wedding.
They had three children: Kenny born in 1948 (he died at age 44), and Daryl and Suzanne, born in 1958 and 1960. They have six grandchildren, four of whom have or are finishing their master’s degrees. One granddaughter just finished a five-year mission trip in Okinawa. Another was a second-team All-American in outdoor track at Eastern Kentucky University, where she also was an academic first-team All-American.
The Easons bought a house in Deep Springs in north Lexington, where they still live. Bill worked at IBM as a machine operator, and Jean worked at Lafayette Studio and as a reading and math tutor at nearby Yates Elementary School.
She has written a book, “Bird’s-Eye View of the Bible,” with Orpah Hicks. The Easons are members of Hill N Dale Christian Church.
Jean Eason walks with a friend, a two-mile route around her neighborhood, sometimes three to four times a week. It’s tough to believe she didn’t start formal exercise until well into her senior years. She doesn’t miss a step during the hourlong workout.
Now she and Bill depend on the exercise classes, along with a diet emphasizing limited junk food, few fried foods and getting enough vegetables and fruits.
Both Easons have a sweet tooth, but Bill “does a little more sneaking than I do,” Jean said.
Bill cut in to say that the night before, he had dreamt of apple pie with chocolate on it.
The Easons’ advice for a long marriage?
“The thing that held us together all these years is our Christian faith,” Jean said. “The other thing is to always be forgiving and to be faithful to our marriage vows, to stay together through the hard times and the fun times. It never occurred to us to do anything differently.”