My fitness regime is unusual these days. A hundred years ago it was not so uncommon.
If you’re not a fan of gyms and routine exercise, you may find you can adapt this regime to your own circumstances. The trick is to incorporate invigorating exercise, regularly, into the natural rhythm of your life. And here’s a great tip. A French fitness instructor told me recently that he classes anyone who walks fewer than 5000 paces a day as “inactive.” Quite a shock! Just try adding up how many steps you walk in a day to get an idea of how much you’re moving. You can use this snippet of information to help motivate you and get you moving each day. If you can incorporate 5000 steps into your day – you’re “active.”
Build daily exercise into the normal rhythms of your life
Since I live in the French countryside, some of my routines clearly aren’t applicable to city living. Some, however, such as swimming and walking, are. The key is that the exercise you take should be pleasurable and/or useful – and built into your daily life. This way, your routine stands more chance of becoming sustainable.
I’m 55, 5′ 8″ tall and weigh 110 lbs. My last blood pressure reading was 129/86 – not ideal but not bad. My resting pulse rate is fairly reliably around 55 beats a minute. Here’s my regime for each season of the year.
This is the time for early morning and early evening walks, pruning olive trees and gathering morel mushrooms.
Three or four mornings each week, I walk in the local forest and hills for around one hour. The going is often uphill and the ground is uneven. Muscles are made to work very naturally. Exercising this way, I can easily walk my 5000 steps.
Pruning the olive trees entails carrying ladders from tree to tree, climbing them and stretching into the trees to reach branches at various heights and angles. The work lasts around two weeks, including clearing up all the cut branches.
Since morel mushrooms grow well here in the south of France I search for them when the weather conditions are right – warmth after rain. This can mean a good couple of hours covering ground in the forest, uphill and downhill.
Spring is also the time to get out into the countryside and collect wild asparagus.
Each morning in the hot weather, I fill water bowls around my property for the birds and squirrels.
I did a bit of math recently, monitoring how far I walk during this task, and found out that simply walking round to fill up each bowl once requires 500 steps. I fill them in the evening too – achieving 20% of my 5000 steps without even thinking about it.
I swim regularly throughout the hot summer months. My partner has a pool so I swim most days. The sea is an hour away so I swim against the gentle Mediterranean currents at the beach too. In order to swim in the pool, I walk there – a five minute walk each way….uphill on the way home. At the beach, in Frontignan, there’s an outdoor library set up on the sand throughout August. There are deck chairs under a canopy and several thousand books and magazines available. I walk there most mornings before swimming – 2000 steps there and back – and look at the press before wading into the sea.
Summer also means picking fruit and vegetables. Gathering in figs, apricots, hazelnuts, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, lettuce – and of course grapes – means daily movement: walking, bending, stretching, carrying.
The serious mushroom season begins. The best harvest is to be had on the side of a local mountain. Depending on the weather, we may spend one or two days each week scouring the mountainside for ceps and chanterelles. Stopping only for a picnic lunch, these days entail full mornings and afternoons of exercise, hours of walking up and downhill.
Autumn is generally a great season for walking in the south of France. Three or four days a week, I’ll walk in the forest or alongside the Canal de Carpentras, perhaps stopping to collect ripe blackberries.
In November, the olive harvest begins. The ladders are hauled out once again. Nets are spread under the trees. Then the olives are collected over a period of four weeks around Christmas. Cases full of olives are heavy. Carrying them and stocking them is heavy work – and great exercise.
Keeping fit – and warm – in winter is not just a question of taking exercise. A mountain of logs outside the house needs to be managed. Carrying and stacking heavy logs for the wood fire is guaranteed to get the heart and pulse racing. It’s work that needs to be done throughout the day, throughout the winter.
Splitting large logs is hard physical work too.
Add brisk walks, daily, in bright sunshine on coastal paths, canalsides and forest tracks and exercise in winter is easily achieved.