February 10, 2014 12:00 PM

People Exclusive

Hips don’t lie. Christie Brinkley rises gingerly from the living room couch and stretches her body back and forth in her Bridgehampton, N.Y., home. “I’m greasing the joints, trying to get them going,” she says with a slight groan. “I do feel old when my hips act up!”

Seconds later she brightens. “Once I get my hips moving, I can do anything,” says the still-stunning supermodel, who celebrates a milestone birthday Feb. 2. “I’m actually excited about turning 60. I feel such a surge of energy.” She’s happy to close the book on the last decade. “My 50s weren’t easy,” she says. “I lost both my parents and went through a miserable divorce [from architect Peter Cook] while trying to be a pillar for my kids. But I made it through. Now I feel on top of my game.”

Brinkley, who gets back in familiar territory in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 50th-anniversary swimsuit issue,* on newsstands Feb. 18 (and in Feb. 3’s NBC special SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful), could easily pass for someone half her age. “I just tend to accentuate the positive, and I don’t try to point out the flaws,” she says. “People always ask me to tell them the worst part of my body, but I would never complain. Sure I can look in the mirror and go, ‘Aaaggh,’ but I am never going to say that out loud, because that would seem so damn ungrateful.” She knows her limits. “At 60, I’m going to do whatever I feel like,” she says. “If I feel like it, I’ll still wear miniskirts, as long as I don’t bring shame to my children!” Brinkley is thankful that she’s still relevant in the beauty industry: She has a contract with IMG Models, a line of Hair2Wear extensions, and she is launching her own skin care line CBBeauty. “Women are not to be brushed under the carpet because they’re a certain age,” she says. “When I started out, I remember very clearly a group of successful models saying, ‘You will be burned up and thrown away by the time you’re 30.'”

She credits her looks to a lifelong passion for healthy living. She stopped eating meat at 13 and follows a mostly vegan diet thanks to 15-year-old daughter Sailor Brinkley-Cook. Serving a guest tea and vegan coconut-date rolls, she says, “I love hanging out in health food stores. Some people are gourmands who love a fish smothered in cream. That doesn’t appeal to me. I treat every day like I’m eating to fuel my body.” For guidance she regularly tunes in to The Dr. Oz Show. Says Brinkley: “I love a glass of white wine at the end of the day, but Dr. Oz says, ‘If it’s time for bed, go red,’ so I’m trying.”

And what about help from another kind of doctor? “I remember Oprah asking how I felt about plastic surgery when I was in my 40s, and I said, ‘Never!’ Now at 60, I’d never say never. But I also think there are so many other noninvasive choices that address sagging, wrinkling and discoloration,” Brinkley says. “I go to my dermatologist about once a month and get special facials. I like modern-technology stuff.”

Her fitness routine (see opposite page) allows the 5’9″ model to fit into size 27 jeans, but she insists she can yo-yo like everybody else. “I will gain weight. My closet is proof,” she says. “I have jeans in sizes from 24, when I danced on Broadway in Chicago, to size 28. Sometimes I eat a lot of pasta.” But if she’s added a few too many pounds, “then I just get on the stick and exercise more. The more active I am, the better I feel.” Most important, she says, her active lifestyle helps her keep up with her three children – singer-songwriter Alexa Ray Joel, 28 (from her marriage to Billy Joel), college freshman Jack Brinkley-Cook, 18 (from her marriage to Ricky Taubman; Jack was later adopted by Peter Cook), and Sailor, who wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps. The high school sophomore recently did a campaign for Ralph Lauren and a shoot for Teen Vogue. So far Brinkley is on board with the decision. “I’ve told her that if I see any sign of [her] being too swept up with this, I will not be supportive,” says Brinkley. “And she knows school comes first. She’s got to keep her grades up. But she gets it. She’s really smart.”

At the moment it’s Sailor’s education plans that are making mom very nervous. Just last week Sailor announced that she’d like to attend boarding school in Europe next year. “I said, ‘I’m not so sure that’s the right move for you,’ then I burst into tears and said, ‘I meant it’s not the right move for me, but I will support you,’ ” says Brinkley. “Suddenly I had a real clear vision of that empty-nest thing. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

If Sailor does take off, her mom might implement plan B. “I could go back to New York City and have a real full life there,” says Brinkley, who has been married four times and hasn’t dated seriously since her 2006 split from Cook. “Living in the country is a little quiet for a single girl like me.”

“I don’t feel this gaping hole because I don’t have a man in my life, but of course I’d like to date if the right person came along,” she admits. Her criteria? “He would have to be really funny, kind and smart,” she says. Being age-appropriate is also key. “I’m not interested in going out with a 38-year-old,” she adds, explaining that it’s usually men that age who hit on her. “My theory is they have nothing to prove, while men my age … well, probably a lot of the good ones are taken. But others think they need a young girl to show they’re still virile.”

Brinkley plans to celebrate her birthday by slipping on a pair of overalls and heading to her art studio to paint and reflect. “The word ‘involved’ has a lot to do with feeling young,” she says. “I would be remiss when talking about beauty secrets to not say that one of the best is to care about the world around you. That’s what really matters. Even when I’ll be sitting here with gray hair and Georgia O’Keeffe wrinkles, people are going to say, ‘There is just something youthful about her.'”

*SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is a sister publication to PEOPLE.

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