Elaine Doll-Dunn, Psy.D

What! Italy? And what does Italy have to do with fitness? Survival. I just returned from a two week sojourn in that sun drenched country…birthday present for my two daughters…and I have to say, being relatively fit is a mandate for having a good time in the old country. If I hadn’t had a fair degree of fitness, I would have succumbed to the rigors of travel. It began with a nine hour flight (you do get tired just sitting), a forty-five minute wait to get my traveler’s checks changed to Euros, and (I was profiled as a bad guy. ‘Mr. Suave’ behind the desk didn’t like the looks of my signature nor the fact that my first name is Myrtle. Well, I don’t like that much either, but I guess I’d better get consistent in signing papers; passport and traveler’s checks didn’t match. My bad. However, Goldie Hawn was in line behind me so the time passed quickly), then a mad dash to the metro in Rome resulted in the door closing on my arm. They don’t release on contact like those in the US, but I yanked my arm free before we took off, and the resulting bruise on my bicep made a great conversation piece besides being a source of amusement for the girls.

Back to fitness. The Italian people are among the most fit in the world. And I can see why. They walk or bike every where, eat healthy, and consume copious amounts of low alcoholic stress reliever. The wine is incredible, as is the bread, olive oil, and umpteen varieties of pasta. I even enjoyed the braised donkey…no, it doesn’t taste like chicken and don’t make any rude jokes. It was tasty. Yes, the wine does enhance the flavors; I even enjoyed the wild boar. Not that excited about his hoary head on the wall above my plate, but whatever.

Forty-seven years ago I was in Italy as a military wife, so it was interesting to revisit those places and to experience the physical and emotional impact of the return. As I climbed the 300 steps to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I reflected on the last time I made that hike; I was nineteen years old and carrying a six month old baby. (If you know Tom Olson you realize that the weight was not a problem, it was his legs dangling on the steps.) My miles and lifting paid off; many were relegated to binoculars from the lawn---I looked out over the marble square and the red tiled city from a privileged position atop the magnificent bell tower. Mentioning that it had seemed much whiter when I saw it in 1957, my daughters suggested that there had been other changes in color over the years. Respect??

Men and women alike, my age and older, pedaled effortlessly through the traffic and over the cobblestones; a briefcase or loaf of bread in the basket depending on the destination of the peddler... The girls and I traveled “shanks mares” most of the time as well, and if we weren’t walking somewhere we were catching a train at breakneck speed so the workouts were prodigious. In turn I made them do a regimen before we left the hotel room…three women can do sit-ups, push-ups, squats and lunges in a confined area, and aerobic laughing counts. The girls limited me to one piece of carry-on luggage, neither hair dryer nor curling iron, and only two pair of shoes! (Low maintenance daughters shouldn’t travel with high maintenance mothers.), so in addition to five miles a day walking/running, a twenty minute weight routine every morning, we were often each towing a thirty pound wheeled anchor, the ultimate “resistance” training. I had a little trouble staying up with the girls, found out when I got home that one wheel had broken off of my luggage somewhere in the streets of Rome…I should have gotten a handicap.

Another facet of the health and beauty of the Italian people is a delightful habit called the siesta. Everything closes down from 1:00 until 3:00, a nice nap and they’re ready for the evening’s lingering meal. Beginning no earlier than 7:30 pm and lasting as long as it takes, that’s the time of the promenade, the street musicians, and savoring the balmy Tuscan climate. Under a Tuscan Moon could be a sequel.

In all the time we were there, I only heard one horn honk (and we visited Rome, Verona, Florence, and Siena). The pace is just slower, not as much languid as it is unhurried, casual, pleasant. It’s as if time is valuable, not to be rushed. That can’t help but contribute to healthy people and longer life.

So Italy and fitness? What is the lesson. Slow down, use your large muscle groups consistently…as in walk or bike as often as possible, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and attempt to work in a nap daily. Eat a balanced diet bereft of processed food, make eating an experience rather than a fueling process, and think beautiful. The Italians are, all of them. It’s not only the genes, it’s the attitude. In my next life…

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