How horses and e-bikes help William Shatner stay fit and creative at 87

Shatner says he relies on horseback riding and cycling, including this e-bike, to maintain balance and stay fit.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Five years ago, backed by a full band, William Shatner enthralled a standing-room-only crowd at the Coach House nightclub in San Juan Capistrano with his unique “spoken word” stylings — dramatic readings of everything from “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” to the Book of Genesis — that he’s been doing since the 1960s.

Now, a half-decade later, he’s closer to 90 — and still going all-out, acting, cutting a country music album and penning a just-released book, “Live Long and …: What I Learned Along the Way,” in which he discusses the meaning of life and living well. Below, he discusses a key element in his long, joyful ride: daily fitness activities.

You’re 87 — and still doing TV, movies, making more music, a new book. You don’t slow down. How do you do it?

Lots of work — and lots of exercise. I always made fitness activities a part of my everyday life.


I got my motivation to work out from acting. As an actor, you have to be able to run and jump and do a fake fight, which can be a lot of exercise in itself. And then you always want to show some muscle and abs and stuff like that. So I had to stay fit — and that required me to get up in the morning and do some exercise. Since my 20s, I’d be in a swimming pool and working out four, five times a week — swimming, running, doing resistance exercises with my lower and upper body.

Then about 40 years ago, I started doing an activity that I credit for helping to keep me fit deep into old age: riding horses.

Horseback riding? How does that keep you fit?

My business manager once said: “Don’t buy anything that eats while you sleep.” Thankfully, I ignored that advice. My wife, Elizabeth, and I have horses in Kentucky and in Moorpark. I’ll ride two, three hours every morning that I’m not working — two or three days a week. People don’t realize it, but you’re not just passively sitting there on a horse. Riding is a stretching and strengthening exercise. It requires balance, expertise, finesse and strength.

And it’s a serious fitness activity if you ride the way I ride: Competitively — in events, not just going for a stroll in the park.

Also, the competition motivates you to stay fit off the horse. To keep up with my 18-year-old competitors, I’m forced to do other exercise when I can’t ride due to work. I do a little weights, but that’s boring. So I’ve always used the pool for exercise. Then, in the last two years, I’ve done something new that has added immensely to my fitness and quality of life: bike.

Road bike or mountain bike?

Electric. An electric bike. It is magic.

I’ve had lots of bikes over the years — my kids too. But two years ago, after reading a story about electric bikes, I went down to the Pedego store on Lankershim Boulevard and bought one for my wife and I. We started doing long rides — 20, 30 miles. Last Sunday, we did 20 miles on Irvine’s bike trails. I live in the hills of the San Fernando Valley, so going up a hill on a bike is meaningful and emotional — giving you a good day or a bad day. Well, with the electric assist, every day is a good day! The e-bike got me outside and got me fitter. Going up the hills is not a problem. I’ve got an arthritic back from all the horseback riding, my muscles are tender, yet I go back to my car when the bike ride’s over and I feel perfect.


What about balance? My dad’s 89 and worried he can’t balance, so he does the elliptical at the gym.

Balance is a huge thing for older people. You’ve got to get your dad an electric trike — a three-wheeler. The elliptical is boring. An electric trike gets you out. Suddenly you’re seeing neighbors, riding to the grocery store and giving the bird to cars.

My legs don’t work as good as they used to, but my balance is there.

You haven’t touched on diet, usually the first thing people mention. Veggie or paleo?

Neither. Living a long, healthy life doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you love. I don’t skimp on food that I enjoy. Being active on a daily basis is more important to staying young and vibrant and creative. Remember that the blood that goes to your legs is also circulating in your brain. I feel like I’m at the height of my creative powers — the new book, the country album getting rave reviews as we speak, going on tour, making a movie, and another Christmas album coming out in October.

It sounds like you’re picking up the pace.

I’m pedaling my ass off, man!


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