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Singing the Praises of Exercise


There we were sitting on top of the world with Tony Bennett. Well, that's how it felt sharing a bowlful of fresh berries with His Stellar Self at the Roof Garden of the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

"That's beautiful," Bennett said of a chosen blackberry before popping it into his mouth. Sure is, we thought, watching Bennett. The 70-year-old singer and painter, with a book of his artwork--"What My Heart Has Seen" (Rizzoli) due out in September, looks fantastic. We told him so.

Question: You look . . . real good.

Answer: Thanks. I'm feeling good. When I lived out here in Los Angeles, I really went to work on myself.

Q: Then you moved to New York City. . . .

A: . . . And it's a lot tougher to exercise. It slows you down, the weather there.

Q: Don't you do a lot of walking in the city?

A: Oh, yeah, I walk. I live on Central Park South, which is ideal because everything's right there. One block over is Fifth Avenue and then you have the park, which is beautiful, and I go to a gym at the Regal Royal Hotel right around the corner. Restaurant Row is right there too. Those three blocks--57th, 56th and 55th, all restaurants.

Q: I know which blocks I'd walk.

A: You know, I'm still trying to eat in moderation. It's hard for me because I love to eat. And if you eat well, you're going to sing well.

Q: How do you figure?

A: If you exercise, you feel good. Well, if you eat well, you feel good. But I really do watch what I eat. I just try and eliminate fats as much as possible. Because I'm Italian, I usually eat a lot of pasta and salad with oil and vinegar. But I do have a very strict breakfast, you know.

Q: Let me hear it.

A: Bran flakes with banana and skim milk. I have a bagel--I don't have any cream cheese on it, maybe a little jelly--and coffee. And then for lunch, usually a small sandwich--tomato and lettuce.

Q: That's it?

A: Yeah, I have nothing for lunch, [although] sometimes I'll go the Italian way and eat a very big meal at lunch and then just have salad at night. That's really the best way to do it.

Q: And what about beverages? Like now you're having cranberry and orange juice.

A: Uh-huh. And in the evening I'll have one glass of red wine. I drink a lot of water. It's good for my voice. The best way to keep your voice in shape is a lot of water and not iced either. Water and a lot of sleep. That's the way to go.

Q: Do you sing in the shower?

A: Yeah. I sing all the time, thinking of tunes all the time. Trying things out, experimenting.

Q: What do you do at the gym?

A: I use the bike and then I do about 200 sit-ups. I do the weights, 5- and 10-pound weights right now because I have a bad shoulder from tennis. I do stretching exercises for that. It's getting better every day. . . . What are you putting in there? You're pouring cream in the berries?

Q: Uh-huh. Just this once. So, do you get into Central Park?

A: Yeah, it's beautiful. I have a bicycle and do the whole park. And wintertime I go to the ice skating pond.

Q: Are you any good?

A: No. I know how to go around in a circle.

Q: Do you ever swim?

A: No. I had a terrible accident and almost drowned. I never got over it.

Q: When was this?

A: When I was a kid. A playmate tackled me from behind and I went under. I couldn't come out of the water. I tried for years to learn how to swim and I just can't do it. It's weird.

Q: But there's still tennis.

A: Yeah, tennis. I love tennis. And painting. That's when I go out a lot in nature and walk.

Q: To relax?

A: Not necessarily. I mean, you have a blank white page and it's frightening, wondering each time if something is going to work. But it becomes calming because four hours is four minutes when you paint. You just get absorbed in the process. Any outside troubles, they don't enter your mind.

Q: How often do you get to paint?

A: I do it every day. When I'm home I do oils. When I travel it's watercolor and that's absolutely fabulous. You learn from watercoloring.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Water color is like jazz. It's very extemporaneous. You have to think about it a lot and then you have to attack the page and do it fast. Either it works or it doesn't, so it's like a jazz solo.

* Guest Workout runs every other Wednesday in Life & Style.

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