I’m not wistful for the days of daylong back-breaking work on the French farm. But I do believe that we have gone too far in developing a less physical lifestyle. Often the time saved is spent brooding about work and family, stewing in our juices.
Careful routine exertion can see you perfectly well through middle age, but as a woman gets older, there is a natural weakening of muscle and bone, and you may consider a bit of more special strength training. Colette, who worked out madly, seems to have burned out early, and in her old age she was not very fit, couldn’t even walk on her own. Small free weights (3-5 lbs.) used in simple, familiar exercises are a good way to preserve upper body tone and bone density and supplement the cardiovascular benefits of an active lifestyle. It’s also good as we age to attend to our abs with a few sit ups first thing in the morning—it’s never too early to start doing so, as they are the muscles that hold all the vital organs in place, in addition to their support of good posture.
You can incorporate simple resistance movements into your daily routine even before you leave the house. After your shower or bathe, for instance, try to dry your toes with your towel while keeping legs straight. While waiting in your car or in the subway, contract your abs for twelve seconds with your back pressed against the seat (better for you than road rage). Use your own body weight as resistance wherever possible: isometric exercises, discreet but effective, are very French: when reading a magazine at home, try sitting on the floor with your legs stretched and apart in a V and your hands on each side; this is a great stretch for your inner thigh muscles. At work, get up from your desk periodically (people are amazed to see a CEO doing her own photocopying, but it’s an excuse for me to walk to the end of the hall and stretch). You get the picture.
The key is to increase daily energy expenditure. Add a few moves to the regular ones all day long. Don’t save your steps, multiply them. Little changes are always easier than big ones, but they do add up. Take the long view: burning a mere 50 extra calories a day through les petites choses (little things) equates to 5 pound of fat a year. Faites simple and you’ll never cry out, “I give up!”