French Fitness – How and Why to Make Exercise Part of Your Life
Somewhere between the hard core, power lifting, heart pumping, body building world of fitness, and the channel surfing, armchair coaching, chip eating world of being a couch potato, lies a huge middle ground. And in the middle of that middle ground lies most of France.
One of the things that makes French life different from America is the lack of an “all or nothing” mentality, especially where diet and exercise are concerned. The French have mastered a sense of balance, allowing them to enjoy things without being defined by them.
Gyms are not as popular in France as they are in America, the massive, posh, havens of housewives and hard bodies where we boldly display that little scanner tag on our key chain as if it were a fashion accessory. No, the French would usually rather get their exercise on by socializing during a sports activity like tennis, biking, or running in groups. And then there’s walking.
Maybe it’s the fact that driving in Paris is a like playing bumper cars at high speed, maybe it’s that you feel like you’re in a painting wherever you go, or maybe it’s the soul-warming smell of passing from one boulangerie to the next that hypnotically pulls you down the street without even thinking about taking a car; Paris is a city built for walking.
On our yearly trips to Paris, my husband and I average about five or six miles of walking a day without giving it a thought. Contrast that with the scene in that 1990’s movie LA Story, where Steve Martin jumps into his car to drive to the neighbor’s house. In France, movement, a.k.a. exercise, is a natural part of life.
Here are just a few of the benefits you get from exercising regularly:
Better memory and mental clarity, because the brain receives more oxygen.
Better posture, because you’re building muscle strength to support your frame.
Better immunity, because physical exertion helps flush out bacteria.
Better sex. Because yep, activity improves circulation and gets us a little more frisky.
A better attitude and less stress, because it increases endorphins, the feel-good receptors, and reduces cortisol, the stress hormones (which by the way contribute to belly fat).
And, it’s the great equalizer for life’s many little indulgences.
If you’re getting regular exercise now, just keep on with your bad self. But if you’re not, where do you start?
Well, before we set foot out the door or pick up a dumbbell, let’s do a little work out on the heart of the matter – what’s your reason for not getting exercise?
No time? You’re busy, I totally get that. But we do manage to somehow get done the things that are important, and this is important for you, to get all those great benefits.
How about committing to 15 or 20 minutes a day, every morning or evening, or whatever works best for you? Is that going to be hugely transformative? Possibly not, but it will get you moving, it will get you over the three-week inertia hurdle (it takes about 21 days to make a habit “stick”), and exercise will become part of your regular routine.
You don’t like exercise? I think a lot of that gets handled by overcoming the inertia thing. But meanwhile, how about a walk, getting some fresh air while listening to music or a podcast? Moving some weights around in front of the TV? A free yoga class on YouTube?
Hard to stay motivated? Set goals and take it one goal at a time. I always like to have my Next Big Thing – a wedding or a planned trip or vacation, something to create a goal and benchmark progress. Just be realistic about your goals so you don’t set yourself up for a loss, and then simply move from goal to goal.
You believe you’re too overweight, overwhelmed, or old? Start small and set achievable goals to mark your progress. There’s an extreme example I tell in my book, Creating the French Metabolism – the story about a man who was over 400 pounds, who decided something had to change. He started by sitting on the couch making running motions just with his arms several times a day, until he became strong enough to walk from one room to the next, several times a day, until he became strong enough to start walking outside – and it built from there until he lost more than 200 pounds. It just goes to show, something can always be done.
I grew up in the south, where you didn’t exercise unless you were on a sports team and didn’t run unless something was chasing you.
Later I became a bit of an exercise fanatic, logging my weekly miles and P90 X, Y and Z’ing my way to fitness.
Nowadays, I take a gentler, more French approach – I do what I want, and it all works out. But I’m deliberate about doing something every day.
My routine now includes walking whenever and wherever possible, moderate weights because I like weights – upper and lower body on alternating days, and yoga whenever I get a chance. It’s not hard-core and I don’t freak out if I miss a day here and there, but it’s enough to keep me fit and happy.
I hope you can find a way to get movement into your life that makes you happy, and that you reap its many rewards. Let me know if I can help – I’m chock-full of ideas!