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Sex, stairs and the Metro: How Parisians really stay in shape

The Local France
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Sex, stairs and the Metro: How Parisians really stay in shape
Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP

If you want to get in shape but you don't want to do anything ridiculous like giving up cheese - you could just follow the daily fitness example of Parisians.


A question asked by many is how come residents of the French capital are so famously trim and toned - despite their love of food.

The popular myth that 'French women don't get fat' isn't really borne out by statistics - just as in most of the western world, obesity levels in France are rising fast and around half of adults are now classed as overweight or obese.

But if inhabitants of Paris do appear trim, it's thanks, in part, to their way of incorporating exercise into everyday life. As well as knowing when to stop eating the cheese.

Here a few tips to get in shape the Parisian way.

1. Take the stairs

Paris is a city in which you may not have much choice in the matter.

Only 50 out of 303 Metro stations have an elevator, and they are about as rare in old apartment buildings (if a hotel or apartment in Paris doesn't mention an ascenseur then it's a safe bet that it doesn't have one), so whether it's negotiating six flights of stairs up to your chambre de bonne or the 104 steps to street level at Abbesses next time the lift decides to take a break, a workout is inevitable on any given day.

And if you really like stairs you could of course climb up some of the city's most famous tourist attractions (although Parisians themselves are unlikely to do this).

Why not mount the Iron Lady or even better just pop up to Montmartre, perched as it is on the city's highest hill?

2. Run for the Metro

Parisian commuters seem to love sprint training. And most of them do it every morning on the way to work when they hurtle down the last few steps and across the platform to catch the Metro before it departs – think of it as subterranean interval training. They also give their arm muscles a workout as they force the closing Metro doors back open.


Or you could just take the safe option and jog on the spot until the next one turns up two minutes later.

3. Just forget the Metro altogether

Alternatively, ask yourself if you need to take the Metro at all. 

With stops an average of only 500 metres apart, sometimes you're just as quick – or even quicker – walking. As the map below shows.

Paris Metro map shows it may be quicker to walk

Paris is a compact city, only six miles across, and you can walk from one end to the other in less than two hours. Add this to the fact that driving, never mind parking, isn't exactly the most relaxing activity the capital has to offer, and you'll see why Paris is a city of walkers – so make like the locals and put your best foot forward.

4. Get on your bike

And when you don't want to walk, skip the Uber and jump on a Vélib or one of other bikes that you'll see parked around the city.

A hit with Parisians, Vélib has been going for more than ten years now and has the highest market penetration of any bike-sharing scheme globally, with one bike per 97 inhabitants. Add to this the city's large and ever-expanding network of cycle paths and you have an increasingly cycle-friendly city.


Bikes are a great way to beat the traffic getting from A to B, as well as a workout – think of it as a spin class with a view.

5. Have sex like as a Parisian

There's no doubt that a little bedroom activity is a great way of burning some calories.

In fact it's probably Parisians' favourite way of keeping fit. A study revealed the average resident of the French capital has had 19 lovers, eight more than the national average.

6. Head to the park for a walk, jog or gym session

Paris parks are not reserved for the poseurs' promenade – from local games of pétanque to pitching up at the ping pong tables, making use of the basketball hoops (or the Instagrammers' favourite, the technicolour court at Pigalle) to climbing at Buttes Chaumont (19th Arrondissement), horse riding on 28km of trails or rowing on the Lac Inférieur at the Bois de Boulogne, there are outdoor activities galore on offer, all of which feel a lot more like fun than keeping fit.


The most popular is of course just going for a run and the paths of parks such as Butte Chaumont, Monceau and Montsouris are packed with Parisian joggers.

The city also has dozens of outdoor gyms, many in parks, so keeping fit doesn't have to involve expensive gym fees. The particularly well-honed people that you see hanging out at these outdoor gyms are often personal trainers, so if you lack motivation arrange for a few sessions - they are often surprisingly affordable.

(This is, in fact, the real secret of those Parisians who do look trim - they eat in moderation and take lots of exercise. But that's no fun!)

7. Buy fresh fruit and veg from the market

The lack of large supermarkets due to the city's limited space is no bad thing – because in Paris you can buy quality fresh fruit and veg at the numerous markets and stalls known as "primeurs". These markets are popular with the locals and great places to get produce.

Not only will you be eating fresh, natural, seasonal produce, but you're getting a walk while you're buying it too – and a workout carrying it all up the stairs when you get home. 


If shopping for shoes is more your bag (or indeed for said bag/Breton top/cashmere sweater), bear in mind that the fashionable Parisians' favourite leisure activity counts as cardio too.

8. Throw a party and dance till dawn 

Given that Parisians aren't exactly prone to rolling out of pubs and into clubs, it's no surprise that the house party (or tiny flat party) is considered the chic option among the city's hot young things.

A browse of the Instagram It Girls' accounts also demonstrates that the private soirée is the fashionable way to work out, with (semi-ironic) Johnny Hallyday dance marathons among the trends. Surrendering to the beat behind closed doors is the perfect way to get the heart rate going while preserving the legendary Parisian public dignity.

9. Eat Parisian portions

Of course there isn't much point in all this exercise if you're going to lose it in the local patisserie and undo all your good work (however seemingly effortlessly it's incorporated into everyday activities) with a baked goods binge.

Follow the Parisian example and don't deprive yourself, but stick to small portions – the city could have invented the concept that a little of what you fancy does you good.

10. Sign up for the most picturesque personal endurance tests. 

There are multiple running events in Paris, which take full advantage of the city's views. As well as the Paris marathon and half-marathon there are also 10km races in almost every arrondissement (check with the Town Hall when your next one takes place).

These races are really good ways of discovering parts of Paris you'd never normally go to. And you get to run on the city's famous cobbles without the fear of being knocked over by a car.

You can also sign up to one of the regular roller-blading tours of the city if you prefer wheels on your feet, or take part in the regular workout sessions that Paris City Hall provides on the banks of the Seine.

Or if long runs are not your thing you could just join Parisians in running across pedestrian crossings in the knowledge that the cars are unlikely to stop. 

These multiple daily dashes and sprint finishes will keep you in shape.

by Lindsey Johnstone



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