Curious, Committed, and Active: An Interview with Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda with Zumba instructor Gina Grant.

Pray you look as good as veteran fitness goddess/activist/actress Jane Fonda does at 80 years old. Since the release of her first workout video in 1982,  Fonda’s 23 home exercise videos, 13 audio recordings and five books have sold more than 17 million copies. And the original “Workout” video remains the top-grossing home video of all time.

“More than any of those brain games, exercise is very, very important for brain health,” said Fonda. “Psychologists recommend exercise for people with depression because when you’re working out, you’re increasing the endorphin level in your body, and endorphins are feel-good hormones. This is why releasing endorphins is so very important. When I don’t exercise, I miss the presence of hormones.”

Fonda believes that people should do an aerobic exercise — even if it’s mild — no matter what your age is. “When you get older, your brain shrinks, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of executive powers — decision-making, planning. You can minimize the shrinkage by working out, especially aerobic-based movement. It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you keep active! Of course I can’t do what I used to — jump up and down and dance — but I still find ways to move my body. There’s always something that you can do that helps keep you active.”

Staying active mentally is also a must. Earlier this year, Fonda took part in a fitness party hosted in honor of the global V-Day movement and its One Billion Rising campaign — a call to action dedicated to bringing together one billion people to dance and rise to end violence against women and girls. “I think being involved in the world, staying committed and curious and wanting to be involved is very, very important,” notes Fonda.

“We started One Billion Rising at 10 that morning at a park in West Hollywood, California and I noticed how many old women there were, and some old men, who had that spark in their eyes that people have when they’re involved and committed and active. They’re activists, and that’s an important thing. One can almost forget about the physical part, that can come and go,” Fonda says. “But if it comes from inside because you’re involved and curious and up on issues, that can keep your brain young, too.”

Fonda also gets to exercise her brain by acting — catch her as Leona Lansing, the CEO of the fictional network parent company Atlantic World Media on the HBO series “The Newsroom.” “I’ve done the first episode of the second season, and I love being on the show. I wish that every news station was like The Newsroom; then we would be in a different situation if the news really told the truth instead of just caring about ratings. It’s a real honor to play that character.”

Shaking your booty is good for your brain too. “Dancing is loving and empowering,” says Fonda. “You take up space, it’s good for your heart and brain. It’s aerobic and gives off energy, and it’s also spiritual, uplifting, powerful, holy and sexual! So that’s why we should dance! It’s wonderful! I can still dance, not up and down and very intensely, but I can swing from side to side and shuffle along. I thought I was too old to do Zumba, but then I realized you could do Zumba slow! Zumba is a state of mind, and I really like that.”

Fonda also really enjoys exploring the mind-body connection and frequently does gentle yoga. “I really like doing my yoga. In the mornings, I love to do a few sun salutations. It wakes me up and gets my body going. You know, there is a lot I still like to do, even at my age. I can still lift light weights, I can still swim, I can still walk. I just want to keep myself looking and feeling good. And keeping my mind clear.”

For anyone who doesn’t like to exercise at a gym, Fonda recommends trying one of her videos. “They’re all primetime for baby boomers and older people. I’ve done aerobic ones, I’ve done weight-training ones, I’ve done yoga ones; they’re amazing and they’re all bestsellers. I get letters from people who are 80 years old saying, ‘I’ve never worked out in my life until now, and this has changed my life!’ That just makes me feel good.”

Fonda believes exercising in nature is good to clear the mind after a stressful day. “Anything outdoors is great,” she says. “Now I can’t ski downhill anymore so I snowshoe. Too many people say that they can’t do what they used to do because they have aches and pains. But you have to find what you can do!”

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