(Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 3/1/2006. Don’t let this happen to you…)
This is the time of year when health clubs, packed with people with good intentions in January, start to see dwindling attendance. I’ve noticed it every year no matter where I am working out. All those resolutions, made so optimistically after the holiday eat-a-thon, start to fade into the clamor of “other stuff that needs to be done first.” Before you know it, your yoga mat is crammed in the back of the hall closet along with your Tae Bo video and your running shoes.
I’m here to say, don’t let it happen to you. Maybe you didn’t turn into a size six after working out for two months, but if you can get through the winter blahs, just think how much better you will look and feel when you have to get in that bathing suit at spring break.
An acquaintance asked me the other day how I stay in shape, even though I passed the AARP qualifying age a few years back. I replied that I have been working out now for thirty years – if I didn’t look halfway decent by now I would have to deaden the pain by consuming large quantities of Godiva. This person was stunned and dubious that someone could really stay with an exercise program for thirty years, but it’s true. There are some of us “boomers” who jumped on the Jane Fonda and Jim Fixx bandwagon (now that is reaching back) and never got off.
I started working out regularly when I got out of college and landed my first job as a restaurant manager. Twenty pounds later, I joined my first health club. The most popular classes then were Jazzercise and Disco Fever. Sweating to the rock and roll sound of the BeeGees, we imagined our svelte selves gliding along the dance floor with John Travolta. Or at least fitting into our swim suits.
When we were told that jumping around on a concrete floor was probably not doing much for our knees and feet, we switched over to low impact aerobics, water aerobics, and weight training. We power walked and ran 10k’s. We sweated to the oldies. Now we have graduated to yoga, kickboxing, step, and spin.
No matter what exercise programs and classes the club instructors dreamed up, I followed along. And gradually working out became more than just a way to keep weight off. It became a way to be strong and fit, and to clear the head. It became a mental as well as a physical challenge. It was a way to test myself, to measure my commitment. Everything else in my life could be in complete chaos, but I still went to the gym. On my worst days I could lose myself in the pulsating music of step class. I could pump iron, and with every bicep curl think I can get through this. I am strong. With every jab, right hook, and side kick in Tae Bo I was pushing back at everything that was trying to bring me down. There really is something to be said for the mind/body connection.
I don’t want to give the impression that I am a compulsive exerciser, working out fanatically every day, needing to maintain a certain weight or else I’m distraught. I never did that. I never exercise when I am ill, and I modify my routine or take time off if I am injured. But I have consistently worked out at least four days a week for thirty years. And, yes, I’ll admit part of it is vanity. I like looking slim and fit, but I also love to eat. If I didn’t work out, at five feet tall I would soon be the shape of a manatee.
I’ll never win a marathon or get a trophy for body-building. No one is ever going to pat me on the back and say, “Wow, it’s amazing that you’ve worked out all these years. Good job!” People definitely don’t get me mixed up with Cindy Crawford.
But I truly don’t need those kinds of perks. It’s an internal thing. I do it for myself. I look around me in kickboxing class, and I see women of all ages and backgrounds with looks of determination and the sheen of good health on their faces, and it makes me feel really good to be part of such positive energy. Plus, I can eat chocolate every day.