Jane Fonda's Return to Fitness

Videos: Fitness superstars who trained us at home. Stephanie Diani / Corbis

When Jane Fonda was preparing to shoot the cover of V magazine's "Who Cares About Age" issue, she was offered a chic, elegant dress by the stylist. "I want that," she said, pointing instead to a leopard-print Dolce & Gabbana cat suit on one of the racks. She also wanted the "edgy, spiky" hair she saw in one of V's earlier issues and dark, heavy, kohl-rimmed eyes. The resulting photos show a smiling, sleek, sexy Fonda mugging for the camera and, in one shot, bending lasciviously over a table. She looks gorgeous and decades younger than her 72 years—a feat that should make any woman happy.

"I hate it!" says Fonda. "They airbrushed all of my character. I look like a monster. I always say don't retouch; it looks foolish. I've had some plastic surgery, but I didn't take away my crow's feet, for heaven's sake." In fairness, her crow's feet are visible on the cover shot. But they're much more subtle than on Fonda's other new cover—that of her new exercise DVD, her first such venture in 15 years.

The actress's latest foray into the world of fitness is directly related to aging—she decided to create the videos while researching her upcoming book, Prime Time: How to Have a Great Third Act. "In the research that I did, it really struck me that it's one thing to exercise or not exercise when you're young; your body's forgiving. It's important, it's good, it's not a big deal," she says. "When you get older, it becomes mandatory to stay physically active. If you don't, almost every part of your physical being is going to be impacted negatively."

The DVD series, which is also called "Jane Fonda: Prime Time," consists of two titles so far: Fit & Strong and Walk Out. They were created with the senior viewer in mind—the moves are low impact, and many can be done while the person is seated. While fitness videos are part of an already robust $60 billion weight-loss market, Fonda thinks that hers addresses an overlooked demographic. "There's a plethora of videos, but there's nothing targeting older people," she says. "The videos that I saw were very good, but not something I could do. And if I can't do them . . ." The need for serious videos targeted toward aging boomers led her to get back into her leotards. "I thought I would never, ever do this again, but [then] I thought I would get back in, because I'm old, I have credibility in this arena, and no one's targeting this demographic," she says. "I'm the one to do it."

After all, Fonda may have won an Oscar, she may be part of an American acting dynasty, but she's also synonymous with at-home exercise. After writing fitness books, she was approached by Stuart Karl, the videocassette pioneer, to take her message to tape. Though she initially resisted, her first video went on to become the bestselling of all time, and in turn helped popularize home videos. "I had no idea that this had never been done, that it was going to create a whole industry," she says. "I'm really, really proud that I came up with a product that women said, I've got to own this because I have to do it over and over and over again. I'm extremely proud. I think it made a big difference. I didn't realize how important it was for women and some men to do this in the privacy of their own home."

While her body still looks fabulous and her face is less lined than most, Fonda is not immune to the ravages of age. She has an artificial hip and titanium knee, and she's no longer as limber as she once was. Her current routine involves long hikes around her New Mexico ranch, low-impact cardio on the recumbent bike and elliptical machines, weights, and stretching—though she admits to going weeks sometimes without exercise. But she says that the cumulative effects of a lifelong devotion to fitness are evident. "Every time I get out of the car, this thought comes into my mind, 'Thank God, Jane, you've done this work. Thank God you can get out of a car without getting help,'" she says, noting that she's still aware of her limitations. "Do I do it fast? No. If I have to cross the street, do I run? No. Do I watch where I walk very carefully? You'd better believe it, sister."

Fonda, who admits to having terrible balance, devotes a lot of the video to moves that would prevent falls in senior citizens, as well as routines, such as Kegel exercises, that help prevent incontinence. That's hardly the advice you'd expect from the lady in leopard-print couture, but Fonda doesn't care. "Given the other things I've done in my life, do you think I'm going to shy away from talking about a Kegel?" she says. "No one else is doing it, and yet these are very real problems."