Jane Fonda's secret to ageless beauty and staying fit

Gail Johnson
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Jane Fonda may be a fitness icon, but it wasn’t until she was in her mid 40s that the prolific actor started doing the aerobics routines that propelled her to a whole new level of fame.

The creator of Jane Fonda’s Original Workout—which became the top-selling VHS tape of all time—tells Yahoo Canada Shine that ballet was what kept her fit up until then.

“Ballet was my exercise because there was nothing else,” Fonda says on the line from L.A., with her dog, Tulea, barking in the background. “If you went to a health club, there would be the men’s gym and there was nothing for women.”

 
 

Fonda, of course, went on to become as well-known for her leg warmers and one-piece body suits as her appearances in films like “On Golden Pond” and the more recent Netflix series “Grace and Frankie." It all started during the filming of China Syndrome with Michael Douglas in 1979. She had a broken foot and couldn’t do her ballet-barre moves. Once her foot started to heal, Fonda began doing her own series of exercises, which launched her passion for fitness and her blockbuster line of workout videos.

“It was like a revolution in my body and in my mind,” Fonda says. “Ballet was great, but I couldn’t believe one could have this kind of control over your body.”

She began teaching fitness while on location to members of the cast and crew. As word got out, other people started to come to her classes. Her book, Jane Fonda’s Workout, was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. With the release of her first exercise videotape in 1982, she singlehandedly kick-started a whole new industry and has gone on to inspire millions of people to start exercising.

The Jane Fonda Workout series consisted of 22 titles and sold more than 17 million copies. Five of her original and most popular videos are now being re-released on DVD. Aside from the original, there’s Jane Fonda’s New Workout, Easy Going Workout, Low Impact workout, and Complete Workout. She has also recently completed a new six-DVD workout set for older people called Prime Time.

While the health benefits of exercise are well-known, Fonda says she’s still amazed by how it can so deeply and positively affect people’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas in 'The China Syndrome' (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas in 'The China Syndrome' (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

“I suffered from eating disorders…and I had very low self-esteem, which is why I have such compassion for women around these issues; I’ve been there,” she says. “I had gone cold turkey in terms of binge eating about a year before I started the workouts. It was really hard….For me, the workout allowed me to maintain sobriety, if you will. It gave me the wherewithal to not slide back. And it gave me a lot of confidence.

“I watched women as they came through the doors of my studio and how they would become transformed,” she adds. “The workout was very, very empowering to women and allowed them to really take control, to a large degree, of their health and their attitudes about themselves. It’s like you draw a circle around yourself and you say ‘I’m here. Deal with it.’”

Now 77, Fonda isn’t doing the kind of vigorous aerobics routines that earned her so many fans. With a family history of arthritis, she has had a knee and a hip replaced. But that doesn’t mean she’s inactive.

“The worst mistake someone can make is say, ‘Oh, gosh, I can’t do what I was doing so I just won’t do anything.’ Wrong,” she says. “You’ve got to keep moving.

“I don’t run; I walk. I don’t downhill ski; I cross country ski when I can. I don’t ride horses anymore. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t do, but I use lighter weights, I use resistance bands, I do Pilates very gently.”

Core training, in fact, is her main focus now, paying special attention very small and specific muscles that that help stabilize the pelvis.

“The smaller muscles are what keep your pelvis and your back in alignment,” Fonda says. “When you’re not in alignment, everything starts going, like the domino effect. I pay a lot of attention to the gluteus medius and the VMO [the vastus medialis oblique muscle, which is part of the quadriceps], as well as my shoulders, back, pelvis. These are the things I these I work on really hard but do it very gently, I work out slowly, and I don’t do curls because I have to be very careful of my back. You have to keep moving. It can make all the difference in quality of your life as you get older.”

Fonda at the 2015 Grammys (Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage)
Fonda at the 2015 Grammys (Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage)

Ask anyone and they’ll say Fonda looks two decades younger than her actual age (remember that sexy outfit she wore to this year’s Grammys?).

Diet plays a huge role in Fonda’s health and beauty. She typically eats a large, nutritious breakfast, whether it’s soft-boiled or poached eggs, whole-grain cereal or toast, yogurt, or fresh fruit. She eats a late lunch and a very light dinner, if she has dinner at all.

“I try not to have sugars,” she says. “I try to eat fresh foods. I try to eat something dark green and dark purple, and a variety of colours, every day. I don’t go to bed without having something dark green, dark purple, red, orange, or yellow.”

Her advice for people who may find it too tough to fit in regular exercise into their demanding daily schedules is this: remember that anything is better than nothing.

“I know that it’s very hard. It’s hard to find the time, but find even if it’s just a little time, 20 minutes, just to move, it will make all the difference in the world for how long you’ll live, for the quality of your life, and how you feel you will,” she says. “You will feel so much better.”

Watch the video below for more on Jane Fonda's stunning Grammys look.