WORKING out in the gym doesn't help us lose weight after all. Now they tell us. Scientists have confirmed what, if we're truthful, we knew all along, that the best way to keep fit is by eating less and keeping moderately active throughout the day.

So I, like hundreds of thousands of others who regularly work out in the 21st Century version of a torture chamber, have been wasting my time and money while convincing myself it is all for my own good.

This became blindingly obvious just over a year ago when our family got together to watch old home cine-films an uncle had just converted to video.

My mother and aunts, all with several children each, some with young babies, were filmed in the 1950s and 1960s on holiday at the beach, at weddings or just playing with the family in the garden.

All of them were not just slim, but beautifully toned. There wasn't a trace of cellulite on their legs, their tummies were flat, their upper arms firm.

It didn't seem fair. Myself, sisters and cousins regularly work ourselves into the ground at the gym, at step and aerobics classes because we're desperate to achieve this sort of look. Yet none of us look half as good.

So how did they do it? "We didn't drive, we had to walk everywhere," said one aunt. Great for the legs. They went to the shops to buy fresh produce every day, then had to carry it all home. And my mother was still using a mangle to help her get through a family of eight's washload. That explains the upper arms.

Once they started, there was no stopping them. "We used to bake several times a week, using wooden spoons, not electric whisks. And we didn't have help with the housework, which included hauling huge carpet rugs outside, hanging them over the line and beating them hard, and getting the coal in several times a day because we had no other heating."

We had to admit that, today, we drive everywhere and complain about having to load our shopping from the supermarket trolley into the car once a week. We have vacuum cleaners and dishwashers, and many of us have help with cleaning. Yet the time and energy we are saving is poured into driving to our nearest ludicrously expensive gym to work up a sweat on ridiculous, possibly now pointless, machinery.

If we put the same physical energy into our homes, gardens or doing something vaguely productive we could save ourselves a fortune. If our rowing, step and cycling machines were wired up to the National Grid we could probably have free electricity for life, too.

And, at the end of it all, we come home, exhausted, fit for little else than slumping down in front of the telly with a microwaved readymeal.

If we're honest, none of us wants a return to the sort of boring, domestic drudgery my mother and aunts were stuck with. And bouncing mindlessly up and down on the latest hi-tech machinery, while watching Britney or Madonna on MTV is still, for most of us, marginally more enjoyable than lugging heavy shopping bags home on foot, or beating a huge carpet.

Any exercise is better than none at all. But going to the gym isn't a sign of being a fit and energetic person - in my case, I confess, it's the lazy way out.

FRIENDS star Jennifer Aniston talks intensely in an interview about her low self-esteem and her new, short, shaggy hairstyle, which she hates. "I did it mainly to relieve me of the bondage of self," she says. So her hairdresser asked her: "What do you want doing?" and she responded: "Just relieve me of the bondage of self." And she's surprised he gave her a goofy haircut?