Exercise Is Not A Dirty Word

For most of my life, “exercise” was a dirty word. It’s not that I disliked sports – In camp, I loved to play volleyball, kickball and dodgeball. As a matter of fact, I was the day camp tetherball queen. I was pretty good at tennis before I got too heavy to lug myself around a court, and I bowl fairly well. Truth be told, I even have my own powder blue bowling ball. But exercise? Nah. I wasn’t ready.

I suppose it started with my parents. Even though they were dedicated Weight Watchers back in the ‘60s, they never, ever exercised. I don’t think they even took walks. Add to that the fact that in school, exercise was limited to gym class where we stood in squads in those awful gymsuits doing squat thrusts as if we were military recruits. I hated it.

When Amy started doing aerobics and crunches back in high school in order to lose weight, she tried to get me to join her. Her eager efforts were met with annoyance: I didn’t want to, I couldn’t lug my weight around, and I wasn’t ready.

Finally, about 15 years ago, I joined a gym. It cost a ridiculous amount of money per month, and except for a few sporadic ventures, I didn’t go much. I would run into my students, graduates, and parents, and I was terribly embarrassed about how I looked in workout clothes. So I dutifully paid the monthly fees…and never went. Instead, at least I started to walk around my neighborhood. Amy bought me an armband so I could carry my iPhone to inspire me with music and a good pace. At first, my arms were so big that I had to wear the band around my wrist. I wore it anyway, and I marched around the block, doing a mile in about a half hour.

Then, last May, when I started My Fitness Pal, I switched to a local gym where most of the clientele was huffing and puffing their way to fitness. I wasn’t surrounded by skinny women in very expensive workout clothes and men who could have made fitness commercials. And since my daily caloric allowance was tied to exercise, there was a daily benefit to working out.

As the pounds started coming off, the armband crept slowly up to my elbow, and then over it.

I finally began to schedule myself into the gym the way I scheduled clients, lunch dates and choir practice. I would go for a half hour, then 45 minutes, then an hour. I discovered that I had a lot of strength in my arms and legs, and it wasn’t so hard to do the bike, the elliptical, and the arc trainer. I could do a pretty mean plank, too, for a minute or even two! I moved on to the treadmill, and soon I was power walking and jogging. I hired a trainer who would take me through those puzzling machines, give me weights to lift and exercises to do. Then, I added in the “30-Day Challenges” as well. The last one, the “Ab Challenge,” started with 15 situps, 5 crunches, 5 leg raises, and a 10-second plank. On Day 30, I polished off 125 situps, 200 crunches, 65 leg raises, and a two-minute plank!

The writer Dorothy Parker once said that she hated the process of writing but she loved having written. I don’t hate exercise anymore, and I respect the absolute necessity that it plays in my weight loss and fitness. I’m pretty proud that at age 63, I can burn off 300 to 400 calories in a day. And I have to admit, it’s pretty cool now when I run into former students in the gym, I don’t duck into the bathroom to avoid them.

Some people don’t recognize me anymore. One friend, whom I hadn’t seen in about two years, absolutely refused to believe me when I told him my name. I had to show him my driver’s license.

I know that I am now recognizable as a “mature” version of the girl I was in high school. I feel energetic and happy; I show complete strangers my “fat” photo and I tell anyone who will listen that if I can do this, so can they. I shake my head at my friends who “aren’t ready” to exercise and who find the available weight loss programs to be too complicated or time-consuming.

Get on the treadmill for five minutes. Walk to the corner to put a piece of mail in the mailbox. Park your car a little further from the train. Walk around the block a few times. If not now, when?

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