Here’s your 2019 fitness inspiration: She’s 95 and is doing the splits

Phyllis Sues is a 95-year-old former dancer who stays fit with stretches, yoga, tango and more.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Phyllis Sues has never exactly rushed into things.

She launched a business at 50 and became a trapeze enthusiast at 75. At 85, she took her first yoga lesson, got into tango dancing shortly after, and jumped out of a plane at 90.

Now, at 95, Sues — who lives in an elegant home above Sunset Plaza — is writing her first book, “20 Tips to Change Your Life,” pushing the notion that it’s never too late to develop at least a few healthy habits.

The former dancer says she wants to be an inspiration to people of any age who might be struggling with their health. Sure, she has good genes; her mother lived to 94, and her older sister recently turned 100. But she believes that the key to longevity and lasting health lies in remaining active, open-minded and unafraid to learn new things. And her big secret? She enjoys a steady diet of buttery mashed potatoes, bread, El Pollo Loco and nightly helpings of ice cream — but says it’s all in the portions.


Here’s how she does it:

Bust out of the comfort zone

Phyllis Sues has been a lifelong dancer; she took her first ballet lesson at 14.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

I took my first ballet lesson at 14. After, I knew I was going to be dancing for the rest of my life. I did some Spanish dancing, performed around Europe and South America and on Broadway. When I was 75, I read an article about trapeze flying. The person who wrote it said that when he was out there and on the bar, he was really present for the first time in his life. I remember thinking, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ I went to a place near the airport. I climbed up a 30-foot high ladder, and that was the part that scared me. Once I got onto the platform, I put my hands on the bar and just flew. I loved it.

Cracking the handstand and slaying the peacock

Phyllis Sues does the peacock yoga pose.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

When I was 85, someone dragged me to a yoga class at the YMCA in Hollywood. The instructor said, ‘Handstands, everybody.’ I thought, ‘Come on now.’ I asked the guy next to me how long it took him to do a handstand, and he said six years. I thought, ‘That’s OK, I have time.’ I do hatha yoga every morning for an hour. It’s not an exercise. It’s a practice. You learn to take your time. I can now do all those difficult poses like the peacock. The first time I saw my instructor do it, I remember thinking that it was impossible, your whole body is balanced on your hands. But I wanted to get it right, so I kept practicing and I woke up one morning and tried again and all of a sudden, I was up.

Dance, walk, anything, just move.

— Phyllis Sues

Hit that tango

Someone introduced me to tango, and that’s been my diamond in the rough. I knew I couldn’t do tango if I wasn’t sufficient in yoga. I needed balance, and the two of them made a marriage. I went to a milonga — a place where they do tango — in Burbank. I told the instructor I wanted a private lesson a week, but after the first one, I made it three a week. After my instructor moved away, I went to see Marcos Questas and his partner Ruta Maria as they rehearsed. I couldn’t believe what was going on, it was so gorgeous. I take lessons from them three times a week.


Develop a routine

Every morning when you wake up, say out loud, ‘Good morning, good morning, I love this day, I’m out to play, I’m not going to delay.’ And then, do something. I do 20 minutes of stretching in bed before yoga. Sometimes I jump rope or lift weights. My living room is my gym.

I have issues, but …

Phyllis Sues makes sure to fit in plenty of stretching.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

I have rotator cuff problems in one shoulder, a ruptured bicep, meniscus in the knee and neuropathy in my feet. I want to feel good. I want my body to be in perfect shape. And it’s very difficult as you age because things start to fall apart and you have to fight like crazy. It’s an uphill battle.

Carbs, come on down

I’ve never weighed more than 100 pounds, but I can eat whatever I want. I just don’t eat a lot of it. Breakfast is a slice of cinnamon raisin toast with Irish Kerrygold butter, peanut butter and sliced bananas, and an espresso. I like El Pollo Loco chicken breast or thigh, nothing else with it, and I have it with a salad. I love mashed potatoes with butter and heavy cream. And every night, I alternate between Häagen-Dazs Coffee and Vanilla Bean ice cream. Mostly I eat alone, and I find I eat even less when I’m by myself.

Move. Listen. Learn.

Phyllis Sues says: "To be sedentary is terrible, so move."
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

That is my philosophy. To be sedentary is terrible, so move. Dance, walk, anything, just move. Then, know how to face challenges, because there are so many out there. Receive them and respond to them, and learn something every day, a new language, a musical instrument; it will keep you all there. I’m so driven and I don’t give up; no matter how difficult something is, I will accomplish it.