Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moving Like a French Woman

I was re-reading a chapter of French Women Don’t Get Fat today. It was chapter 10 - ‘Moving like a French woman’. In it she makes some interesting points about French women and exercise.

Mireille says traditional exercise where you change into your workout gear doesn’t go with being French. She describes it as a great, joyless effort cutting two hours out of your day to travel, change, learning and waiting to use machines, showering, drying your hair and so on. And you have to pay for it. I couldn’t have written it better myself. She describes exactly why I am not a gym bunny anymore.

She also mentions an ‘overheated’ workout can do the opposite for you than a milder exertion. It revs up your appetite so you eat more afterwards. And if you decide all that energy expenditure is just too much to put up with, you quit. It can encourage the ‘all or nothing’ mindset.

I couldn’t agree more. I remember some particularly high-energy aerobics classes when I left the gym on a Saturday morning literally shaking. And I was ravenously hungry. My poor body, all churned up. And then I looked around for the nearest horse to eat...

I think it comes down to what suits you. Some people thrive on high-energy workouts but I know for myself they are counter-productive to my health and tranquillity. I much prefer gentle exercise as part of how I live my life.

Walking outside either at a fast-paced clip or a leisurely meander depending on my mood, how much time I have and whether I feel tired or energised that day is my favourite form of exercise. I also feel really fortunate that I have found an enjoyable yoga class to add to my walking.

Yesterday our teacher echoed my walking philosophy. She said you will have days when you have lots of energy and feel great, and days when you feel tired and want to be more gentle on yourself. On these types of days it’s hard to even find your balance, you’re wobbling all over the place (in yoga at least). And it’s true!

In the past I’ve felt guilty if I’ve had a ‘slack’ gym workout and either pushed myself to try harder or left the gym feeling guilty because I didn't take full advantage of my workout time. Now how much fun does that sound? Again, it’s down to the individual – there are plenty of people who enjoy the high-octane effort of a gym workout, but I’m not one of them.

My husband and I have had this conversation a few times – he knows how much I enjoy my gentle pursuits of walking and yoga, and he’s told me how much enjoyment he gets from his hard-out cardio and weights gym sessions 3-4 times per week.

In her book, Mireille encourages us to increase our walking by adding regular ‘dedicated’ walks to our day. Start small and make smart strolls a part of each day. It could be walking part way to work (I drive, but often walk to the bank, post office or library during the day. When I worked in the city I would use my lunch hour to walk from the bottom of town to the top to visit the library or just for a stroll) or walking for 20 minutes after dinner to aid digestion and wind down before bed.

Of course you won’t want to wear stilettos, but you don’t have to wear chunky sports shoes either. There are many styles of comfortable flats which allow you to be comfortable and look good in your normal day clothes too.

When I travelled to London, I had a number of days where I was a sightseeing group of one. It was lovely to have the day to myself, but to have friends to meet up with at night (they were working). One of the days I caught the tube to Chelsea/Sloane Square area and just walked around imagining I lived in one of the gorgeous pastel coloured terrace houses and eventually made my way to a shopping area and another tube station where I rode back to my friend’s home later in the afternoon. Not a typical touristy outing but I’ve always enjoyed seeing how people live, and not just gawping through the gates of Buckingham Palace (although I did that too of course).

I’ve done this a few times in my own city. I think I’ll do it again soon. The area we live in is pretty boring and out of the way, and not really suitable for walking, but I can drive to a lovely, older area and park the car. Then the plan is to walk as if I lived there and enjoy the beautiful homes, perhaps stop in a cafe or window-shop. Enjoyable exercise is what I’m all about.


  1. hi fiona,

    is that coco? i looked high and low for a pair of high waisted pants last year and finally found them. i love them. took my pic in them yesterday and guess what? i look horrible in them. who knew? not me.

    i agree with you re workouts. when i trained for my blackbelt i would leave class so exhausted and hungry i could eat a house. now with my walking and yoga my appetite never gets crazy anymore. i prefer that.

    thanks for your sweet comments today.


  2. Janet, I think it is Coco. Doesn't she look fabulous?

  3. I am the walking /Yoga type of gal myself...although I am adding in a weekly swim this fall for fun!

    Your appetite can go crazy when you really amp up your workout...

    I like your feminine approach here Fiona, much more chic and ladylike!

  4. OK! You are so BODECI it is scary! I love this post. Yes, we will look back on the "Jane Fonda" era (as I put it) and laugh our relaxed asses off! You are quite brilliant! Yes, yes, yes.

  5. Leslie, when I was lucky enough to live at a house with a pool several years back I used to come home from work in the summer and swim laps for around 20 minutes. I can still remember the refreshment I felt now. Yay for swimming.

    Debra, I hoped you wouldn't be offended by my post, as I know you are a gym instructor! Maybe if I had someone like you around I'd like the gym more.

  6. Fiona - I can't go back to a gym, mainly because I don't enjoy the gym experience. Driving there, sweaty machines, high fees, etc. I do get results from walking but I usually have to take a dedicated walk during the day. It's not conducive for me to walk during the day at work as it's a more industrial area surrounded by highways. I'm trying to take the stairs more and I have got to get into something like yoga or pilates soon. I need the flexibility back in my joints!

    It sounds like you have successfully incorporated this euro style of movement into your day. Way to go!

  7. Fiona,

    Thankfully, I am NOT a "gym instructor"! I quit working at a gym years ago. I have a studio attached to my home in the Sonoma Valley. I take my clients on walks down our country road and I do work them out in my studio, but I abhor the whole "I vant to pump you up" mentality. I also teach my style of workout at a wonderful Pilates/ Yoga studio in nearby Santa Rosa. But, again, there is the presence of spirit and joy, not that "Biggest Loser" brow beating. Why do so many flock to this sort of behavior? Weird!

    Love this post to death!

    Janet, I want to see those high waisted pants!

  8. Fiona,

    I'm a lover of yoga and walking/hiking. However, lately I've been going to the gym because I need to kick start my metabolism. Like you, I don't like the experience of being jostled about and getting sweaty. Years ago I tried the whole aerobics craze but it didn't last long for me. But I'm finding that for now, I need to get to the gym. We do have a yoga instructor at the gym so once I get to where I need to be, I'll start taking his class more often. Also, I live in an isolated area and find that gym time is a good, healthy way to socialize. However, I am looking forward to when I don't *need* to go. :)

    Your post inspired me to finish writing a blog entry that I started a couple of weeks ago.

  9. When did fitness become a grind yourself into the ground endeavor? I have lovely pictures of my mother and aunts in the 1950's, while not supermodel skinny, they had lovely figures. Figures that they kept healthy and trim by eating properly, walking to appointments (unfortunately, too often in heels), and playing sports for pleasure. I've never been a gym person...I'm southern, I make it a rule not to sweat unless the humidity is up lol I would much rather take a walk or practice yoga. I think of them as exercise for my mind and my body.

  10. Stephanie, your work and home are the opposite to mine - home is not conducive to walking and work is in a lovely part of town very suited to walking.

    When I worked in the city and lived in a different area, I bussed home each night and took a dedicated walk after work - half an hour on weekdays and one hour on weekends. It really clears your mind too.

    Debra, your setup sounds idyllic!

    Cherie, everything has its season. I went to a small, luxury gym a few years back and enjoyed it for a while. It's also nice to see your arms getting toned up. But eventually I got bored, as I always do.

    I think there are gyms and there are gyms. One I'm thinking of that is the antethesis of my small, personal gym with nice people is the big chain gym in the city with pushy sales people, seemingly one million members and an atmosphere of panic as soon as you walk in the door. It stresses me just thinking about it! And to imagine I used to go there every day. Sometimes I decided there were no carkparks and just went home (parking was terrible there too).

    Morisot, I hope you are feeling better. I adore your Southern women description. So soft and feminine. I don't need to have biceps, and I'm sure yoga will give me the strength I need. I would love to read an expanded version of this as a blog post along with the photo of your mother and aunts.

  11. My husband and I have been getting an espresso nearly every day at a cafe. I think the next time we go we'll be walking, since the one we love most is less than 10 blocks from our house!

    I enjoy going to the gym, walking/running on the treadmill, and maybe sitting a bit in the sauna. But really, usually it sounds like hell for me, because if I don't run enough then I feel let down. So I cut it out as a routine and is more of an occasional thing.

    I prefer a lighter workout now, some walking. Maybe a bit of dancing. But nothing that leaves me feeling like I could eat a whole horse.

  12. I find gyms to be a rather intimidating thing, full of people in much better shape than me who can do things I can't do. I much prefer your gentle way of doing things and need to get back into doing that. I hate to admit it but lately I've turned into a real couch potato.

  13. I subscribe to the Power of Ten (Adam Zickerman) Heavy weights - low reps done slowly. Done in 20 minutes. Also Pilates like Debra teaches. This aerobics thing is silly.

    And as a former ballroom dance instructor, don't even get me started on running. Smacking and banging joints on a hard surface is nuts.

    The other thing I miss is the all girl gym. When I was in my twenties all the gyms were boy or girl. I really hate working out with a bunch of guys around. At least my gym doesn't allow them to wear muscle shirts or anything. Who wants to see some guys hairy sweaty underarms? Ugh! (Sorry for the visual)

  14. Fiona,
    I would truly love my own pool...and not just a paddling backyard kiddies version, a real lap pool...I would use it everyday...I am a Pisces and I LOVE to swim.
    I am buying a "punch card" (frequent user card) for swimming at a local hotel that also has a weight room and hot tub, robes and towels...lovely daughter and I are going to go!
    It's more expensive than the Recreation Centre but so much nicer!
    How fortunate that you had a pool and could relax and de-stress after work swimming, I am sure, very elegantly in your own pool!

  15. Fiona,

    I used to be a cardio/weight training addict - working out hard five or six days a week. But I didn't like the constant feeling of fatigue and soreness.
    I also used to do super slow training which builds muscle. I ended up eating like a piggy and gaining five pounds!
    Now I take brisk walks, followed by a series of ab crunches, push ups and triceps exercises ending with a few stretches. I try to do it four days a week. I feel a little sore the next day, but not in pain and not so pooped that I feel ill.
    I do think it's important to do weight bearing exercises on a regular basis, especially for our upper bodies. As we age we will need those muscles to stay strong. I don't want to be one of those women who can't open a jar of pickles by herself or carry her own grocery bags.

  16. Adrienne, I have the same "must do" trio: triceps, arms (sometimes pushups), and ab crunches. A very good way to keep your muscle tone without a lot of sweating or jumping.

  17. Kalee, you have the perfect opportunity for a daily amble with your espresso. It sounds every European too.

    Jackie, I know, I was constantly comparing myself to others at the gym when I went. Not very good for the self-esteem and surely not very French!

    Adrienne, how interesting that you used to be a ballroom dance teacher. Now THAT would be an elegant way to keep your body fit.

    I'm anti-running too. When I was younger I used to once in a while. It feels really good while you're doing it - I can see why people get hooked. I hurt my knees in one of my spurts though. After watching the NY marathon on tv I ran three days in a row (from nothing) and ended at at a sports doctor who sold me some expensive custom-fit orthotics. So intelligent.

    Leslie, your luxury pool sounds gorgeous! A real treat for you. Think of the extra cost as a 'spa surcharge' because it sounds like you're going to a spa!

    A gym I went to in another city I used to live in was a private gym for a building. It supplied you with towels and toiletries so you didn't have to lug everything along and was very small and boutique-y. It was really quite lovely and a very enjoyable place to visit. I still had to workout though!

    Adrienne and Cherie, I like your routine and I might just have to borrow it. I agree that a little weight-bearing exercise is necessary as we get older. Muscle-tone rather than muscle. I like it.

  18. Hi Fiona, I have just discovered your blog and love it enormously. Thank you!

    Several years ago I was lucky enough to live in Europe for a couple of years. (from Australia). Just naturally I developed a habit of a Sunday all-day walk around the city. I would walk and visit churches, and look at buildings and just walk wherever the fancy took me. I always took a book, and after an hour of walking i would find the nearest cafe, sit for a cup of coffee or (more usually) a glass of wine and read for half an hour or so then start walking again. I often started about 10 in the morning and finished up with a quiet supper near my apartment and then to bed. It was wonderful, and the experiences I had remain with me as treasured memories. I also managed to lose 55 pounds in 2 years, but that was a happy byproduct rather than the aim!

    Thanks again so much for your blog. I find it inspiring.

    best wishes,


  19. Irene, wow, thank you for your comment. What interesting stories you must have. Won't you share them? French Sundays! 55 pounds! If you do not have a blog of your own feel free to email me about doing a guest post on your experiences. howtobechic at gmail dot com.

    I think your Sunday walk sounds just delightful. Thanks so much for stopping by. Are you living back in Australia now?

  20. Hi, I just happened upon your blog and have enjoyed reading the posts. I love to walk/jog and do a couple of miles everymorning...but I also love my time at the gym challenging myself. My first love however is yoga - good for both body and mind. I will be back. Come and see me sometime.(-:

  21. I enjoyed this post because it wasn't until I read her book about 5 years ago that I felt okay in just walking. I too never really enjoyed an intense workout because I found I wanted to eat more. Now all I do is walk and I've in my best shape ever. And the added benefit is that I don't have to worry about my knees giving out when I get older. I'm impressed with long distance runners but their bodies when they get older - not always a pretty thing. Again, great post.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...