Decades after revolutionizing the fitness world, Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons are back doing what they started: starring in exercise DVDs and teaching workout classes.
Fonda is 76 and Simmons is 64, and neither entrepreneur seems ready to slow down. Fonda, the actor who brought fitness into the home and to the masses with her famous 1982 video Workout: Starring Jane Fonda, has launched a series of new fitness DVDs targeting baby boomers. Her latest book, Prime Time, is a guide on living and aging well.
Simmons still teaches his signature aerobics class twice a week at Slimmons, the Beverly Hills, Calif., exercise studio he founded in 1974. The self-appointed "clown prince" of fitness also travels the country teaching hundreds of classes a year at schools and conferences.
Today, the living legends email one another on a regular basis and speak fondly of each other. They recently talked about everything from how the fitness landscape is changing to how they cope with aging bodies.
(Simmons opens the phone interview with a song. It's 7 a.m.) Already, I've talked to 20 people. I start phone calls at 4 a.m. to cheer people up. The housebound, people in the hospital. People who, after decades, still can't get over what happened 10 or 15 years ago.
What's different about people today?
Truthfully, everyone knows how to eat right. They know the difference between oatmeal and a jelly cream doughnut. They know how to walk. Everyone has this in their brain. When I started, we didn't have all this knowledge.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self?
Stop trying to find something in food that will make you feel better. I used to have eating disorders; I'd binge and purge all the time. I tried to medicate myself with food when people made fun of me or hit me with a bat in school. I'd always turn to food. Knowing what I now know, I'd turn to me.
What's your workout today?
Today I'll do 45 minutes of chest and back exercises at the gym in my house. When I go to teach, that's not my workout. It's my show. I'm 134 pounds — I'm a teeny thing. I work out 1½ hours a day and eat 1,600 calories. I can't stray because I have to fit into these Dolfin shorts! They don't make the material anymore. It's flammable. So people send me their old pairs. I have 300 and wash them by hand.
How do you connect with younger people?
I'm 64, but I act like I'm still 12. I go to schools. At colleges, they come out in droves, they almost scare me. I think it's just to see if I'm still alive. After I work them out — and it's not easy — I sit them down and we have a serious talk. Are they eating? Working on their body? I can say things parents won't say. No matter where I go, I talk to each one individually after I teach. They tell me things like, 'I'm starving, guys like girls thinner.' I give them concrete advice about self-image and self-worth.
What's the biggest mistake today's fitness trainers make?
Most workouts are way too aggressive. Thousands of lunges wear out the body. It's not healthy for my client — the one with the bad back, bad knees, diabetes. I'm the only one who takes a humorous approach. Comedy — not screaming at someone — can make someone lift their legs higher. There is a way to do a pushup and a situp, and it doesn't have to be so complicated. Everyone is putting a difficult twist to it and making you do way too much.
What's the best way to stay healthy?
For 40 years, my formula has been to love yourself, move your body and to watch portion size. But the No. 1 thing is to love and value yourself, no matter what you've been through. People spend thousands in therapy digging and digging in the past. When you dig and dig, you find relics. Try to forgive yourself and get back on that ride. Ride Sally Ride! (He begins to sing.) On this magic carpet ride!
How do you cope with aging, when your body betrays you?
I say to myself, 'Fonda, so what if you can't do what you once did, like run and jump up and down? You can walk, which is also good for your mind and mental attitude. You can do simpler exercises, like getting up and down from a chair without using your hands. You can stay fairly flexible.' The most important thing is to not become sedentary.
How have your fitness expectations or workouts changed?
I am kinder to my body. I don't try to prove anything to myself or others. I keep thinking about the need to go slower, gentler and maintain a sense of humor about it all.
I get energy from . . .
Sleep is critical to me . . . at least eight or nine hours a night. I start to slow down my body and my mind at least 30 minutes before I get into bed. I don't watch any disturbing or invigorating TV at night. I also get energy from meditation practice and from eating healthy fresh food, only one cup of espresso in the morning, and not drinking too much.
Advice to women who are fitter than their partner?
Be a good example and hope the partner gets the hint. Any partner who would attempt to sabotage my fitness regime I would leave . . . wrong partner.
Are you a runner?
I can't do anything with impact. I have genetic osteoarthritis. My father had it, and so does my brother. The bulimia didn't help either. (Eating disorders are associated with an increased risk of fractures, research shows.)
Have you ever exercised to help depression?
I continued to exercise, especially aerobic stuff on a bike and treadmill, when I was going through a nervous breakdown following my second divorce. I figured, if I hurt, I must exist.