Adopting the fit French culture

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

Now that our Independence Day has come and gone, the next country to be celebrating in a big way is France. July 14 is Bastille Day, a very big occasion throughout the country and especially in Paris. 

Why do I file these random dates in my head?  Perhaps it is because I love the French National Anthem, or maybe simply because I think Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Another thing we Americans tend to notice about the French people is that they never deny themselves any of the delicacies for which the country is known: rich cheeses, red wine and pastries.  What, then, is their secret to remaining so incredibly fit, as compared to the general population of the United States?

Perhaps the French keep their health and weight in check because they simply move more than most Americans.  Instead of driving, the French take advantage of their cities being very walking-friendly. Daily walking is a part of their lifestyle, making it that much easier to remain healthy.

In terms of food choices, the French do indeed love their rich, fat-laden foods.  However, valuing quality over quantity, portion sizes are much smaller than we find in this country. In addition, most meals are cooked and prepared at home, not only elevating the food almost to an art form, but also ensuring that a minimum of preservatives will be ingested. It is not uncommon for inhabitants of this country to visit the bakery daily for fresh bread, the open-air markets to hand-select only the freshest vegetables and fruit, and also the fromagerie to buy freshly-made cheeses.  Did I mention they walk to each of these local places of business? That alone burns half the calories of what is being purchased!

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A little goes a long way at French meals. True savoring of flavors and passionate enjoyment of meals is the norm. In an international study, the French rated highest in terms of associating food with pleasure, and the lowest on linking food to health-related issues. It may come as no surprise that the United States demonstrated the direct inverse of the French results. The French never dine while driving or watching television, and they refrain from gulping down their food. Meals are a gastronomic experience to be engaged in slowly and leisurely, savoring every small bite.  

Even desserts differ significantly from what we Americans tend to enjoy.  A simple piece of dark chocolate suffices as an end-of-a-meal treat in Paris, whereas large portions of ice cream or cake tend to be the norm on this side of the pond.

Taking all of these ideas into consideration, perhaps we should toast the country of France this Bastille Day, and tip our hats in the direction of their healthier lifestyle. After walking to your local market, raise your glass of red wine and savor the moment…c’est tres bien