At 73, Jane Fonda is many things. The most obvious is that Fonda is a striking beauty. At a recent Barnes & Noble event in Manhattan, I sat in a standing-room-only audience listening to people wonder: How will she look?

“Prime Time” by Jane Fonda. Random House, New York, 2011. 416 pages. $27.


At 73, Jane Fonda is many things. The most obvious is that Fonda is a striking beauty. At a recent Barnes & Noble event in Manhattan, I sat in a standing-room-only audience listening to people wonder: How will she look? The aging man behind me, someone you might describe as ageist and unconscious but nonetheless likable, proclaimed: “She’s late because she’s old. It takes a long time to put on all that makeup.” Boy was he surprised. The intake of breath when she entered momentarily depleted the oxygen on the fourth floor of B&N’s flagship store.


Fonda is also fit, smart, funny, learned, gorgeously too thin, energetic, in command of her mental faculties, and an incorrigible flirt. The man behind me was the man she called out as sexy when she began taking questions.


Because she pursues many interests, from fitness to gerontology to psychology, her book “Prime Time” is a font of wisdom. It is not a memoir. It’s a how-to book on living the Third Act, as Fonda calls it, of your life in a way that gives you happiness and fulfillment. She paraphrases Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl: It’s about your attitude. It’s not what experiences you have, but how you reflect upon those experiences. The only freedom you really have is the freedom to choose how you will respond to a situation.


There is no question: If you read this book and follow even half the advice, you are going to see your prime time perk up. Fonda presents 11 essential ingredients for successful aging. They include not abusing alcohol, not smoking, getting enough sleep, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy, active brain through learning, encouraging a positive attitude, reviewing and reflecting on your life, loving and staying connected, giving of yourself especially to younger generations and caring about the big picture. Each one of these becomes a chapter in the book.


The book includes exercises, suggestions about how and what to eat and it also takes up matters of senior sex including the mechanics of getting to intercourse, psychology, meeting people, types of assists you might consider, and suggestions for how to make the most of a romantic evening. “There’s no doubt that the sexual landscape will continue to change as those in the huge cohort of baby boomers enter their Third Acts,” she writes. The benefits of sex: reduced risk of heart disease, depression, migraine, arthritis, stress and increased health of the immune system. Put another way, boomers think they discovered sex in the 60s and 70s. They aren’t likely to give it up just because they have a fake knee. Jane Fonda now has replacement hips and knees. It hasn’t stopped her from having a boyfriend and a love life.


“I’ve lost eyesight but gained insight,” she told us. At the center of it all, she writes, is forgiveness and gratitude.


Fonda advocates the life review. To fully prepare for and get the most out of Act III, you need to understand the first two acts, she says. “I’m so much happier because I did this.” She spent a year studying her life with detachment and great interest. “You become a witness to your life,” she writes. If you successfully complete the review, you can find atonement, redemption, reconciliation and affirmation. The years already lived can be cast in a new reality.


Fonda’s life has always been complicated and large. She is an activist, an author, a fitness expert, a lover, a mother and, of course, an actress. She’s managed to weave all these demanding activities into a big, sometimes messy life. A new biography is releasing this month.


Fonda’s childhood, from a distance, looks like it must have been extremely challenging. She has a lot of photographs in her book. Pictures of Fonda as a little girl rarely show her smiling. She looks much too somber for her age. When Jane Fonda was still a child, her mother killed herself by slitting her throat while in a mental institution. Her mother’s long-term depression surely made an impact of some kind.


Today, she writes, she is happier than she has ever been. It took work. There are no roadmaps. No sign posts. We are, she continues, modeling aging for those to come. You do all that you can but in the end, you cannot form attachments to the outcome.


Standing up to leave after Fonda completed her talk, I turned to the man behind me and asked, “What did you think?”


“Beauty comes from inside,” he said. And the “sexy man,” as Fonda dubbed him, smiled and headed for the escalator.


Rae Francoeur can be reached at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or her book, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” available online or in bookstores.