Helen Mirren workout: How the star keeps fit at 76, in just 12 minutes a day

This simple, 12-minute Canadian Air Force workout keeps Helen Mirren, 76, looking good for the silver screen

Helen Mirren at 76
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At age 76, Helen Mirren needs to stay fit, healthy and active to make sure she can run the gamut of movie and TV roles. From her award-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth to her supporting role in Fast & Furious, Mirren’s always on the move, although she doesn't have to do too many stunts to keep up with Vin Diesel & co. However, she’s still got to stay fit and healthy, and it's apparently all down to a simple, classic 12-minute military workout.

Although there are some dietary concerns Mirren’s got to factor in when keeping her global movie star image (for example, ensuring she's got the best vitamins for women over 50 and the best supplements for joints), Mirren is also a lifelong follower of a tried-and-tested workout plan. The Royal Canadian Air Force exercise plan, or the "XBX plan for physical fitness", has been in use since the 1950s, and Mirren uses it to prepare for more physically active roles. It’s been dubbed the Helen Mirren workout by various online outlets. 

In one interview, she told the UK's Hello magazine: "I do a thing that leads me into exercise. It is the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise plan. "[The plan] has charts you follow. Each day, you have to do the exercises within the 12 minutes and until you can, you can’t move up.

"It is the exercise I have done off and on my whole life. It just very gently gets you fit. Two weeks of doing that and you think: 'Yeah, I could go to the gym now'."

What is the Helen Mirren workout?

XBX stands for "ten basic exercises". Created by the Canadian military in the 1950s for personnel stationed on bases with no gym, the concept was laid out in several now-discontinued pamphlets, which are difficult to get hold of. However, there's no need to go hunting for the information: we've got the classic beginner's workout for you right here.

The exercises feature classic bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, high jumps, sit-ups and more, along with stretching exercises such as arm circles to ensure you maintain functional mobility. Designed to develop basic strength and flexibility, the pamphlet reads like an early version of a HIIT workout. 

As said in the interview above, Mirren uses these to keep fit and prepare her body for more intense periods of training in the gym. You can do the same, making this the ideal fitness plan to ease yourself back into activity in preparation for more strenuous exercise. 

The full list of exercises are below. The original plan has different timings for different difficulty levels, but the beginner level of the workout (illustrated in the video below) can be completed in just 12 minutes. 

  • Toe touching – 5 reps. Bending at the hips and touching your toes with straight arms. 
  • Knee raises – 8 reps each side. Standing up, bring your knee into your chest while balancing on one foot. 
  • Lateral bending – 5 reps each side. Feet shoulder-width apart, raise one hand above your head and slide the other down to your knee. 
  • Arm circles – 12 each side. Keep that shoulder-width stance and rotate your arm in a wide circle, elbow straight. 
  • Sit ups – 5 reps. We've got a fully comprehensive guide on how to do sit-ups here.
  • Chest and leg raise – 5 reps. Lie face down and bring your chest and knees off the floor into a slender arc, so your stomach is the only thing touching the floor. 
  • Side leg raise – 5 reps each side. Roll onto one side and, keeping your leg straight, lift it to a 45-degree angle. 
  • Push ups – 5 reps. Check out our guide on how to do a push up properly.
  • Leg raises – 5 reps. Lying on your back, keep your leg straight and lift it straight up 90 degrees. 
  • Run and Hop – 50 reps, plus one jump. Jog on the spot, counting your steps. At 50, bend your knees, reach your arms back and do a big double-footed jump, stretching your hands in the air.  

The Helen Mirren workout: What's next?

 This is designed for anyone, of any age, to get themselves back into fitness. If you’re a senior, out of practice, or a complete beginner, this is a great way to get back into the swing of things and assess your functional fitness level. 

Once you find this workout easy, and you're looking for your next challenge, you might want to simply up the rep count, or pick up one of the best elliptical machines. Ellipticals offer a low-impact, low-intensity workout solution while helping you get a great cardio workout and even build a little muscle.  

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.