P1090667For about a year and a half I’ve been wearing a wrist-based monitor and I love it. I work from home, and since our kid started going to school by bus in town and I no longer walk to and from school four times a day (coming home for a two-hour lunch…yes, it’s the south of France), I can easily get consumed by my screen and barely budge for hours.

My monitor tells me how many steps I’ve taken, how many calories I’ve burned, more or less, how many hours I’ve slept and how well, and my heart rate. For a while, I filled out the online form with everything I ate, but that was too tedious, so I just look at the total that I’ve burned. It is sometimes depressingly low.

Fishing and walking along the Canal du Midi

My monitor is like a Mary Poppins on my wrist, seeing all and nudging me to be my better self.  I can see when I’ve been at my desk too long and whether I slouched through a run or whether I actually went all-out, based on the heart-rate stats. The overall effects are in the resting heart rate, which are comfortingly low. I am a type-A overachiever, and I love nothing better than to best myself.

I can see how I slept–not just how I thought I slept, but actually how many minutes I was tossing and turning and how much time was in the Alzheimer-fighting deep sleep zone. I can look back at factors like how late I ate, or whether I had wine with dinner, or how late my last coffee was, to try to tweak my sleep for the better, and to see how it turns out.

Mountain biking through the vineyards

I realize that all of the numbers are broad generalities, because a wrist-based sensor isn’t the same as the precision of a laboratory. But it gives me an idea and keeps me from being overly optimistic. A reality check. A kick in the pants.

I am not into selling stuff, and so I haven’t mentioned the name of my monitor, but it’s one of the popular ones. The first one fell to pieces (and I was furious) but was still under guarantee so I have a newish one that seems to be of sturdier design. There are many options. A friend has a phone app that counts steps. Whatever works. Sometimes we need somebody/something to tell us, hey, do better! Other people who have tested multiple brands are better positioned to make a recommendation.P1090609Another interesting, and free, test is the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s World Fitness Level Calculator. It asks lots of questions (like maximum heart rate and resting heart rate) that are easier to answer with one of these wrist fitness monitors, but it also asks lots of lifestyle questions, like whether you’ve ever smoked, and your waist circumference. At the end, it gives you your fitness age. My fitness age is less than my chronological age, despite the fact that my best sport is reading (I have never successfully caught a ball). It’s probably because I do exercise pretty much every day, figuring that being able to run up steps and carry stuff and act like the much-younger parents of my kid’s friends is well worth a daily half-hour of misery. I also go to Pilates once a week, to add to the suffering, but that is so worth it for correcting back problems.

As for the French take on this stuff, almost all my French friends do some kind of exercise. One swims (outside!), even when I think it’s insanely cold. Another does Pilates and aquagym. Several go to the village exercise class, which I did for years. Some do yoga. Another does yoga and walks for an hour a day. I had always read that French women don’t work out or do anything that involves sweat, but pretty much everybody I know actually does work out in one way or another. A group of retired villagers goes for a walk around the vineyards every day–early in summer; midday in winter. Their ranks have dwindled over the years and is down to four feisty old ladies. They stop at the cemetery on their way home.

I even found some stats: 64% of French people over age 15 do some kind of sports at least once a week. The most common activity is walking for leisure, with 42% of people doing it. The sport most people do the most frequently is “utilitarian” walking–i.e., commuting on foot. It probably helps keep obesity levels to around 15.3% in France, compared with 38.2% in the car-centric U.S. Another source said 48% of the French walk or run.IMG_5802There are gyms and associations for every imaginable sport, from fencing to flamenco to football. Crazily, to join a gym or sport club, you have to go to the doctor for a medical certificate that says you’re healthy enough to do the sport. The city of Carcassonne just launched a program to get people in not-great health (people with chronic illness, cancer, obesity, diabetes, Parkinsons, hypertension, arthritis, or kidney or respiratory problems) to do sports in a supervised way–you get a prescription from your doctor and can go to a sports center for €50 per six months for locals. Which is quite a bargain. The sports include rowing, kayaking (in a pool), swimming, walking, nordic walking, climbing (indoors), archery, stretching, tennis, muscle-building, exercise, balance, yoga and cardio training.

If you can motivate yourself to exercise alone, you’ll save money–running doesn’t cost anything except for shoes. I was on the track team for one year in high school, at the behest of some friends, and came in last in every event I tried. I once ran a 10K and came in second-to-last, nosing out a guy twice my age. Despite my lack of aptitude, running appeals because it’s cheap, time-flexible and efficient. I’ve been doing high-intensity intervals–30 seconds of walking, 20 seconds of jogging and 10 seconds of sprinting. Last fall, during a sprint, I asked myself whether I was really at my max and tried to go faster. I ended up splat on the ground with two skinned knees. On the other hand, I can take stairs two at a time without getting winded, so it’s worth it.P1090690What do you do to stay in shape?



37 thoughts on “En Forme

  1. Sounds like you’re doing pretty well with your exercise regime – I felt exhausted at the end of the post! 🙂 Walking, gardening and yoga are part of my everyday exercise plan. A wrist monitor would be interesting, I once had a step counter, but gave up on it when I realised that it counted vibrations – driving on a bumpy road drove up the count considerably!! 🙂 The modern counters are much more sophisticated, so perhaps I’ll give it another try!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are useful in getting an idea of whether you really pushed the limit in a workout. And a literal slap on the wrist when you don’t move around enough–you can set an alarm to buzz every hour to remind you to move. Helpful or annoying, depending on one’s perspective.


  2. I enjoy your posts they are so varied. This for me is a very good post, as the wrist monitor sounds exactly what I am searching for. Nothing I’ve looked at here in the UK seems as comprehensive as yours. Would you mind telling me which model?

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      1. Thank you. Too many to choose from.Will check this one out. Possibly I need to do more research on them. I’m on the don’t need this,would like that phase at the moment. I’ll give up being pedantic soon and ‘just get one’ I guess.. thanks for your help.

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  3. Historically I was a rower but although I do have a single scull I seldom get in it these days. We hope to settle somewhere that I can and will invest in a pair so that I can teach my husband to keep up with me. Meanwhile, when we are together we run – or more accurately he runs well and I struggle alongside. And we hike in the mountains in summer and raquette in winter. And I ski. Badly. Very very badly. Living in the city has been harder. I could certainly have joined all manner of associations but I haven’t and that is my bad. I will better that in a few weeks when life is due to take a new turn once again. The French though, I think are fantastic examples – even the very aged walk far more than Americans or Brits. As a runner we have taken part in several 5 and 8k organised runs here and you have to belong to a club or have a certificate from your doctor that you are fit enough to compete. My only gripe is that I always look like a bag woman compared with the other ladies … French people do like to have the right kit for the occasion and my choice of cast off tops from my husband and tatty tights (good running shoes though, very good running shoes) and a bandana rather than bespoke sweatbands is a cause of raised eyebrows (discretely of course) 🙂

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    1. Rowing! My kid is doing it in gym class (I am so impressed with French physical education! Rock climbing, spelunking, swimming, and now rowing. We had calesthenics and volleyball). I agree that even the elderly get out and walk. I counted half a dozen this morning. My parents never walked anywhere. And also your point about clothing–I came of age in the “Flashdance” era of ripped sweatshirts–anything too nice was considered not serious. I don’t do ripped anymore, but certainly nothing too twee and perfect.

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      1. I am so delighted to read this! I see youngsters out on the Isère in various sculling boats. I actually took up the sport in adulthood and it is a minor (actually a major) obsession. I have smartened up my act in terms of attire but refuse the total slave to matching approach … glad we are on the same page there! BTW I really loved this article and my husband has just read it and metaphorically applauded too 😊

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  4. Being the vain person that I am….yoga and an hour and a bit of walking/hiking five days a week is what I do. It helps that we have hills and trails close to our home. We have a rowing machine for when the rain is blowing sideways. Visiting France…seeing people of all ages engaging in different forms of exercise, regardless of their ability is reaffirming. All the stairs to all those apartments keep the elders fit. Much better than stair masters in a gym.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It isn’t vain–it’s practical! Staying in shape is better than falling apart!
      It’s true that stairs are great exercise and keep a person in shape. They’re like the “utilitarian” walking–activity that’s just part of daily life.


      1. I remember when I joined a health club in Paris many years ago and was horrified that it only opened at 9:00 a.m. When I made a comment, they acted like I was crazy. Mais quelle idée, faire du sport avant 8:00! 😉

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  5. Oops, something went wrong trying to correct my spelling on the train to Zurich! 😉 As I was saying, we have an ellyptical trainer (sp?) and a few free weights at home . I also do yoga and sometimes will just crank up the music and dance with my two left feet. That said, I should push myself more. I do run a bit but don’t really enjoy it that much — mostly just enjoy being outside moving my bones when it’s gorgeous weather. (I once ran a 10K and like you finished among the very senior participants!) The fitness tracker did not work for me — felt like digital slavery having to sync the darn thing and charge the battery all the time. If I lived in a city would definitely join a health club and go to classes. Also love swimming. Basically, I find life is just so much more pleasant when you get an hour of exercise in before work.

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    1. Yup. I absolutely hate running and am terrrible at it. I also am in misery during Pilates, because I go all out (it’s possible to do it halfway and nobody would be the wiser, but what’s the good of that?). However, the pain is well worth the payoff in energy, good sleep and strength.

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      1. I tend to attack things like that too, but…senior wisdom and failing body parts are teaching me to breathe into it and let go more. It’s a slow and often painful process!

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  6. My fitbit tells me I was not sleeping like I thought I was. No wonder I always thought I needed more sleep than others. No, I just needed sleep. I laughed when I got a badge telling me I had walked the equivalent of the Serengeti and later I had walked across Italy. It also made me aware that I thought I was not a morning person, but I get a much better result exercising mornings. The earlier the better.

    Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good for you with your Fitbit! I am always the last to get any newfangled technology so give me a few more years. I’m hopeless at exercising alone, and I have to get back into a routine. My sister and I are best friends, and before she moved away, we briskly walked 8-10 miles every single day. We ate whatever we wanted and required no other exercise. We plan to be neighbors when we retire and be the fittest chicks on the block again. 🙂

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  8. I usually play tennis 2-4 times a week, but with the weather this winter it was more like once every 2-4 weeks and it shows – both on my waistline and my sleep pattern – nothing regulates middle aged sleep like exercise, I’m convinced.

    Still, that’s just an excuse – My giant dogs need more walking, and I’m determined to grow something to eat and to get back on a horse this spring/summer so surely between all of those I’ll manage 10 hours a week of exercise, which is my goal. Because I’m not giving up cocktails, not now, not ever.

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  9. I bought a cheap wrist band a while back on Amazon, turned out it wouldn’t work with my Mac, so I’ll eventually get a FitBit.
    I’m just back in the US from several weeks in France and noticing how much bigger the cars are and how much less everyone walks. I walked so much in Normandy that my whole body loosened up and moved more smoothly, yay. And I, too, like to row–the very best overall exercise I’ve ever found. Plus the joy of being on the water.
    On longer-term health monitoring: My doc had me do a stress test last December. They take an echocardiogram, then put you on a treadmill to speed up your heart, then quickly another echo. It measures whether there are hidden problems, such as potential artery blockages. Not perfect, but it gives a good sense of whether there are potential problems. If you can get one OK’d (US system), recommended.

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  10. I’ll pass on what I do..I am a gardener..avid..but that spells nothing in winter.
    Jacques has done treadmill every day for at least 25 yrs.Not a slacker.He bought a Fitbit in Nov because a friend told him it nearly saved his life..Jacques loves it and monitors everything.He walks outside every day too.I hate the cold.I snowshoe w/ pads as you read:)
    I don’t want to know how little I sleep.
    I am a firm believe in looking after one’s health and moving a lot..which I do.. but I also now know that fate can wreak havoc on someone too.No matter how careful one is.
    Such lovely photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Catherine! I love my heart rate monitor and it’s one tool I think I’ll keep around for the long haul. I like the little vibration reminder mine has that clues me in to how long I’ve been sitting. It also makes sure my perceived levels of exertion are in line with my actual exertion when I’m doing a heart rate-dependent type of exercise. These days I mix weight training with HIIT and cycling. But I go through phases of what I like to do. 😉

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