Walking Out On Jane Fonder's Regime
The Times 1st September 1986
As the muscle of Jane Fonda's frantic fitness campaign withers, Douglas Thompson finds many Americans striding along, British style.
The Encino branch of Jane Fonda Workout Inc is where the wealthiest, most fashionable Los Angeles set have bent, stretched, twisted, and shaken their bodies. Today, the only movement in one of the world's most chic dance and exercise studios is by real estate agents and their clients. The studio has shut up shop.
Jane "feel-the-burn" Fonda, the self-promoted leotard-clad queen of aerobics and the American fitness movement, appears to be burnt out. The Fonda mystique — with its best-selling books, videos, records and tapes on how to look and feel good — is fading fast. Almost as quickly, it seems, as the exercise boom ran around the world, with gyms and fitness studios appearing on every high street corner.
Today in California, those same exercise outlets are offering cut-rate deals to attract customers. Hundreds of them, some franchised, others individual attempts at a quick money-making venture, have closed down. The crowds who once attended in their legwarmers, ballet shoes and leotards have lost their drive. And the business world is pointing the finger: if a studio with the high profile and reputation of a Fonda can't stay in business, what^an?
Signs of a slump began three years ago when Fonda's company negotiated a deal with a US clothing company to market exercise outfits carrying the actress's name. There were few sales and debts were reported at $12 million. This summer, Jane Fonda's New Workout and Weight-loss Programme was published with much fanfare, but so far without the sales fervour generated by her previous workout and fitness-related books. Fonda makes the point in the new book that to be fit you must exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week: "There are no short-cuts, no sweatless quickies. You must be committed to working hard, sweating hard and getting a little sore." But in a new videotape to be released here soon, the "make-it-burn" advice will be toned down.
The decline of the exercise movement in America has fuelled a new debate about what is good for us. Medical opinion seems to back the theory that British is best - that the traditional exercise, a 20 to 30-minute walk up to five times a week, is better than most other types of exercise. Half-an-hour or more of "energetic gardening" is also recommended by the easy-does-it-movement. The emphasis is on walking, not running: under rather than over-doing it.
Fonda and her medical advisers challenge the findings from the American College of Obstetricians and gynaecologists which state that women are safe doing 30 minutes' moderate exercise every other day. The actress says three times a week is a minimum and adds: "If you are really interested in getting fit or losing weight, four or five times a week would be better."
Her passion for exercise began, quite literally, by accident when she broke her foot. There were just two months to go before she began work on the Neil Simon film California Suite, which called for scenes in a bikini. When the cast was removed from her foot, she went to exercise class and was impressed by the results.
In May 1979, the first Jane Fonda workout operation in Beverly Hills began returning the initial £200,000 investment within a year. "It's positive pain, just like childbirth", chanted Fonda and her fans.
Now doctors say extreme exercise by women can cause temporary infertility and spinal-bone loss linked to lower oestrogen and calcium levels. A study carried out in California says that injuries are now a major concern to the 27 million American women involved in aerobics: 73 per cent of instructors and 43 per cent of the aerobic dancers suffered minor injuries.
Medical and sports opinion is now concerned about the impact such findings will have on the role of women in world sports. Dr Henry Solomon, a cardiologist who wrote The Exercise Myth, says that if exercise was a drug which had to be licensed, it would not receive government approval. He says that the death rate during jogging is seven times higher than coronary death during less strenuous pursuits. "The risks are too high: death, orthopaedic injuries and hormone imbalances for women", he adds.
Other doctors say that the risk of a heart attack is heightened during exercise but that it is less of a risk overall (about 40 per cent) for people who do exercise than for those who do nothing. Two years ago Jim Fixx, author of The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack while jogging. He was 52. He was fit but not healthy because of clogged arteries.
The myth that a marathon runner will never have a heart attack is now in doubt.
Aerobics, the best-selling book by Dr Kenneth Cooper which was published nearly 18 years ago, helped plant the seeds of the fitness boom. Now he admits: "I've changed my mind. I'm running less and performing better."
Life in the slow lane appears to be the trend now: last year fewer adults in America called themselves joggers than at any time in the past seven years. More than a third of the nation's organized marathons were cancelled and the circulation of running and associated magazines has slumped. It is predicted that by the end of 1987, aerobics studios which survive the exercise turn-round will be offering low-impact rather than "burn-in" fitness programmes.
Filling the vacuum are old-fashioned forms of exercise. Thirty million bicycles were sold for fitness reasons in the past year (a jump of 36 per cent), and there is a move back to walking, boosted by recent medical studies.
Research by California's Stanford University has found that there are major health benefits from losing 2,000 calories a week through exercise. This would be the equivalent of two-and-a-half to three hours' brisk walking on top of normal activities. It is also being promoted in publications like the new Walking Magazine, which expects to reach a half-million circulation within a few months.
Walking has advantages for all ages in that it does not need expensive equipment, most people can do it easily and it can be done almost anywhere. About seven million Americans have taken up. walking as exercise in the past year. Fitness walking involved 40 million people last year, 33 million took part in running and jogging, and a further 39 million in exercising to music.
Walking has attracted the attention of advertisers and manufacturers. Walkers are now a target group, with their own shoes: prowalkers at $70 (about £45) a pair, Nike walkers at $40 and a new range from Reebok, the company which made millions from aerobic shoes.
Medical advice for walkers is to start with a 20 to 30-minute walk or one to two miles every other day, building to 30 to 45-minutes at a brisk pace, three to five times a week.
Soon, with Fonda fading, some one will be selling us books, videos, tapes and records about how to walk. In turn, they'll be walking all the way to the bank - briskly.
Jane Fonder - What fitne$$ means to Fonda
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