Economical on Exercise: Keeping Fit, French Style

This time of the year is hell for regular gym-goers like me. In the New Year rush to achieve bodily perfection, classes are full to bursting point with uncoordinated newbies, whose lack of spatial awareness makes even the most basic of aerobic moves positively hazardous. Nevertheless, as the debate rages on about leaking breast implants and dodgy plastic surgery, I remain firmly committed (at least for the moment) to making the most of what I’ve been given. Last year that involved taking drastic measures, when I challenged myself to a juice fast cum yoga retreat in rural Wiltshire. However, this year, I’m considering taking up a gentler, more French-style exercise regime.

It never ceases to amaze me how remarkably svelte older French women remain, despite regularly tucking into heavily buttered croissants, fromage et jambon-laden baguettes – and spending hours at the lunch table, before embarking upon a slap-up three course dinner – both with the obligatory glass of wine, of course.

Have you ever noticed how the French rarely ever participate in sweaty physical pursuits? Instead, they prefer a leisurely promenade around the block in their finery, often accompanied by un petit chien. Even President Sarkozy had to give up his model wife’s jogging-based fitness regime in favour of the somewhat gentler diversion of running the country. I was wondering if perhaps the French get all the exertion they need during passionate love-making sessions (citation needed)… Alternatively, could their seeming aversion to strenuous activity be something to do with using very little soap?

To me, the spa at the George V Hotel in Paris typifies the traditional French approach to working out. Decorated in powder-puff pink, with Fragonard style prints and Gatsbyesque murals, a maze of prettily lit corridors leads to sumptuous candlelit sitting out rooms, with plumped-up day beds, veiled by lazily draped gauze curtains.

A workout here need consist of nothing more than donning an imperially fluffy white robe, with slippers to match, and simply padding about all day. You can sit by the classical style pool, or drift into the gym to take a look at the empty machines and unused weights – set off magnificently by fat, leather padded walls (perfect for cushioning unexpected blows caused by post-sauna somnolence).

The tempting array of treatments includes the signature ‘A Stroll to Versailles’ – inspired by Marie Antoinette’s beauty regime, and consisting of an orange blossom body scrub followed by a relaxing massage – plus an unforgettable milky facial…and macarons.

With a ready supply of magazines to hand, together with limitless cups of tea and enticing snacks, time simply flies by. Before you know it, a smiling waitress will be around, asking if you’d like a little something from a gigantic mound of dried fruit. Yum.

I must admit, I’m quite taken by the French approach to fitness, though it could turn out to be seriously costly (and that’s before the Euro crisis hits home). It’s probably just as well that the 2012 Olympics are being held in London, and not Paris… non?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

14 thoughts on “Economical on Exercise: Keeping Fit, French Style

    January 21, 2012 at 09:42

    Sarkozy’s recent pronouncement that he will be (French)toast if ‘I lose an A’ means that he and Carla will soon have lots of free time for strolls in the Tuileries after bouts of love making – but you are quite right Susan – the French, and it seems to me most other nations on the mainland of Europe, have a much more relaxed attitude to life than we do in these islands. I have just returned from Spain, where the main focus of their ‘holiday’ is Los Reyes Magos or Three Kings Festival, which crops-up every January 5th. They are quite relaxed about Christmas Day and the few days following the 25th, and leading up to New Year. They take those days off, of course, but seem to spend the time watching gringo hoards pouring boodle into their flattened economy. And what is the point of going back to ‘work’ between January 1st and January 5th? The result is a holiday that lasts for over two weeks, giving them ample opportunity to increase the population or just stroll about doing nothing in particular…..but GDP? Chorra!

      January 21, 2012 at 18:03

      Do we think the fragrant Carla will still be interested in the diminutive Sarko if he is no longer Le Chef?

      January 21, 2012 at 21:57

      No Flamenco dancing then, Mahlerman?

    ian russell
    January 21, 2012 at 10:58

    I think its all that shoulder shrugging and gesticulating; it must burn a lot of calories.

      January 21, 2012 at 21:59

      … and chewing snails and frogs legs?

    ian russell
    January 21, 2012 at 11:09

    The croissant is deceptive. It’s rich and buttery but, in fact, it’s 90% air. I like mine with a selection of honeys whereas the French, I believe, just have black coffee. Not that I’m fat!

    Yes, I used to hate the gym at this time of year. Resolutionaries!. You couldn’t get near the bar afterwards!

    January 21, 2012 at 11:31

    Lovely stuff Susan – but I can’t help noticing every time I’m in France that there are more and more joggers hurtling about at serious speeds – and in hideous Spandex what’s more – letting the side down badly in every way.

    January 21, 2012 at 13:13

    Susan, some of the interiors resemble the decor of a mid twentieth century funny farm, do the exercises include hurling people at them perhaps. Interesting point about those French Mesdames of a certain age, also applies to the wives of republican candidates although that may be more knife than knife edge calisthenics. Most of the French people that I know are mountaineers, Savoyards and therefore not really French (their description) and the fittest people on the planet, the CAF guides in particular are physically honed to perfection, their gym is golden alpine granite, not the Jane Fonda step box.
    Never used the gym, have added two kilos to gross tonnage since the age of seventeen, the secret? regularly worry about everything.

    An indication of the cash generating properties of the fitness industry is the above mentioned step box, I was involved with the company in Bury that initially produced it, factory gate price…£7. Original retail cost…£75, over twenty years ago.

    January 21, 2012 at 15:27

    French women: I read that French women, in addition to all their ancillary charms, spend more time asleep than any other. They may also, as you suggest, spend more time in bed (or some equivalent) but this I have yet to ascertain, although I have naturally been drawn to the phrase ‘sleeping dictionary.’

    Soap: As one who lives in London-Paris moitié-fifty, I can only aver that the smell of a crowded, or even relatively empty London tube carriage is infinitely more vile than its Paris metro equivalent. Nor in Paris is one harassed without surcease by some glutinous, nannying and repetitive voice-over.

    PS. What is this thing called ‘the gym’?

    January 21, 2012 at 18:01

    On the subject of all things French, I found out yesterday that the French for ‘window shopping’ is ‘leche-vitrine’ – literally ‘window licking’ – perhaps all those empty calories account for the ladies’ trim physiques?

      January 21, 2012 at 22:00


  8. Gaw
    January 21, 2012 at 19:35

    My guess is that French ladies stay slim by not eating piles of starch (taters, rice, pasta) and by smoking lots.

    January 21, 2012 at 22:09

    I’m surprised that so few of you dabble at exercise… apart from Nige’s long walks in the countryside, of course. I haven’t spotted any spandex myself, apart from the Tour de France riders (and then sadly only on television). Interesting info on the mark up of sporting equipment, malty, I’m obviously in the wrong business. Ancillary charms, Jonathon? Like smoking?

      January 22, 2012 at 00:00

      No joining fees at this gym Susan. Cathy Destivelle is sort of French, born in Oran, the most gracefull climber but the language, ouch. As you can see she believes in going unprotected, those Frenchies!

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