Let’s Get Physical: Keeping Fit in Italy
Looking at the physiques of Italians today (soccer star Claudio Marchisio or Italian actress Martina Stella) or at the lithe tanned bodies on any Italian beach, one must wonder… how do they keep so fit? After all, this is the country of Dr. Atkins’s great nemesis, “carbs;” a land of pasta alla carbonara, tiramisu and pizza a quattro formaggi.
So, are Italians hitting the gym at 4:30 in the morning before going to work, forgoing pasta for protein drinks fortified with chia seeds and a shot of Kombucha, or are we just talking good ol’ genes. While some Italians may be following a strict diet and fitness plan and are indeed blessed, it may be also be few other things.
First off, Italians integrate fitness in their daily lives. Long walks (la passeggiata) are both for pleasure and out of necessity. Between traffic and frequent bus strikes, Italians find it faster and easier just to get up and walk. On weekends, Italians love to hit the parks and go for leisurely walks to buy a gelato, enjoy nature, or meet up with friends. Whatever they are doing seems to be working. Alternatively, here, in the states, we have the country that gave us the thigh master, CardioFit, and Jack LaLanne and we are still struggling with obesity, heart diseases and diabetes.
|Photo by Crossfit Gorzia|
Second, Italians rarely snack. I have a friend from Ancona and he is about the fittest man I know. He runs in the morning, plays tennis and walks to work. For his meals, he eats well but does not overeat. Breakfast is a brioche with an espresso, lunch is pasta or a salad, while dinner is his favorite: fish. He does not eat potato chips, or drink soda.
Finally, the diet of Italians is based on fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins and complex carbohydrates. When I was in Italy, they were using terms like “organic” and “integrale” way before we did. I never went to an all you can buffet nor did I see Italians going back for seconds like we do here.
Perhaps the best example of being fit is a good friend from the city of Prato, Nella Triolo. When I lived in Prato, she invited me often to her home. I marveled at the fact that both she and her husband raised two world class athletes. Both children were champions at judo. I recently asked this bella signora how she does it all. Mom, a great cook, a career woman. “My secret to staying in shape is to do a little movement as much as possible,” Nella explained. “I go to the gym two or three times a week and I do zumba. In Italy, we really care about keeping fit. Italians often go to the gym–not just young people but also older ones too. During the week I do my daily activities, clean the house, groceries, and my work and when I can , I go to the gym…. we always tried to get our children to understand the importance of fitness and staying in shape early on.”
|Nella Triolo looking amazing.|
Nella’s balance of eating well and keeping fit works well. In fact, this innate sense of moderation is a lifestyle Americans perhaps need to adopt more fully. Yes, in general, Americans work out but some also snack, watch too much television, and gorge on nachos and hamburgers that are made of a mixture of bacon and meat.
The idea of being fit has evolved since the days I was in Italy in the 1990s. More and more Italians are working out. In 2012, it was estimated that the number of gyms in Italy were approximately 7 mila. But despite an increase in overall fitness, Italians still are not as gung ho about hitting the gym.
|Paolo Zimolo, Owner of CrossFit, Gorizia|
According to a recent report, Italians just do not work out that much. While Italians love to ski, play tennis, walk and cycle, and play soccer, many still do not partake in organized gym time. In fact, as high as sixty per cent of Italians are still not exercising on a regular basis but those numbers are changing. One such fitness expert is hoping to changing this.
Born in Gorizia, Paolo Zimolo, owner of his own gym, CrossFIt Gorizia, and with a Laurea magistrale in Scions dello Sport, Paolo spoke to me about how he wants more Italians to make fitness a part of their everyday life–not just for getting into that bikini for the summer. Here is his outlook on fitness, and how Italians are gearing for a summer season where they will eat that cup of gelato, but also swim in the Mediterranean waters and look both happy and fit while doing so.
Gaya Lynn: Tell me about yourself and how you got involved in fitness.
Paolo Zimolo: I became interested in sports when I was five. Back then, I participated in both with soccer and swimming. I began working out when I was twenty years old while attending college at the University of Udine. At that time, I also started to train children in gymnastics, swimming and then finally in soccer where I worked with a female team of Serie C. I did this type of work for three years until I opened up my own personal gym which specialized in CrossFit.
GL: Fitness has changed so much especially in the last twenty five years. Before we had aerobics, calisthenics, step class, but now there is so many new types of exercise such as Cross Fit, Zumba. What types of fitness classes are the most popular in Italy and also why did you choose Cross fit?
PZ: Here in Italy, the fitness world tends to follow America’s lead…. Body Building used to be male dominated but now females also participate. The activities that are most popular and most in vogue are spinning and zumba. Last year, in our area, we were beginning to see more functional training like free training while using equipment such as Kettle bells, and TRX.
Cross fit has gained in popularity the last few months. I opened up an official location not because of the growing demand but because I firmly believe in the values that this sport sets forth and transmits to the participants along with its amazing benefits that are felt on a daily basis.
GL: When and why did you decide to open up your own gym .
PZ: In September 2013, I opened my own business. This decision came about by a desire to help others live better and improve their health while sharing my passion and my knowledge of sports education.
GL: I bet there is a lot of competition. What makes your gym different and what do you offer that is unique.
PZ Fortunately in this area, there is only one official CrossFit workout studio, so there is still not a great deal of competition. Having said this, whether there is competition or not, I concentrate on offering the highest possible service, and in catering to the goals and needs of every patron. I also collaborate with other professionals like nutritionists, physical therapists, and sports psychologists.
Another characteristic that differentiates us is the tremendous appreciation we hold for our clients. We truly try to dedicate a great deal of time in developing a “personal touch” with our clients, this includes personals training, checking in with them, and organizing special events outside of our gym.
For more on Paolo Zimolo and his gym, CrossFit Gorizia, please go to