Fifty year old newbies, that is.
Although a bit tardy to this party, women over fifty years old are embracing the value of using a gym for their health and fitness.
To those who knew me in my younger days, my own gym membership late in life would astonish them.
You see, I was last picked for any team sport as a young girl. My nickname was four eyes. Not only did I have high-resolution prescription glasses before the age of ten, but I lacked basic physical coordination. I certainly couldn’t have foreseen a day I’d be a gym rat.
First, joining a gym wasn’t even an option for me years ago. While I exercised to an aerobic TV program that was in the secrecy of my home, where no one could see my inability to master any complex alternative arms and legs workout. Besides, not only did I assume that gyms were only for real athletes, but, they were all co-ed. Inherently shy, I was unwilling to dress in the classic gym attire for the male voyeurs there: tight leggings, bare midriffs, push-up bra.
But, several years ago, I began experiencing odd health issues. One day, while walking on a level trail with my husband through a gorgeous forest, I quite suddenly could barely move one more step. Bracing my arm to climb to street level, he placed me on a deserted bench and ran to retrieve our car, a 40 minute jog away.
After that, I hesitated to take a lengthy walk by myself. Yet, I missed walking.
What thrust me into a gym was my son’s two-hour horse riding lessons. To pass the time, I frequently drove to a nearby grocery store. I noticed a sign next door to it: All Women’s Gym.
All women? No males with bulging muscles or leering wandering eyes? Heading through the gym doors, my first impression was intimidation. Not only was music loudly blaring, but, there were young women everywhere in those tight leggings with taunt bare midriffs. Somehow, the perky young woman at the front desk persuaded me to join.
At first, I felt out of place amongst the multitude of toned bodies. But, it was wonderfully freeing. Daily, I’d walk as long as I could on a treadmill, step off the machine, jump into my car and arrive home safely.
Within a month, I walked listening to music with noise blocking ear buds on an iPod bought for me by my thoughtful sons.
Even though the young women smiled encouragingly to me, I was too nervous to use the weight machines.
Until, I learned that lifting weights maintains bone mass.
I bravely asked one young woman how she achieved her toned arm muscles. “Here”, she said, “sit down; I’ll show you how it works.”
Months later, I boasted to my sons to check out my hard-earned flexed biceps. Compared to their bulging muscles, mine were puny. They always said, “Way to go, Mom!”
But, my late in life successful entrance into the often-awkward world of the gym stirs my helper gene. Those gym newbies over 50 years old are just like I use to be. They sit down cautiously at a weight bearing machine, clumsily touch the handles or stare too long at the weights. Unfortunately, handling exercising equipment wrong can painfully create twice the needed effort. I ponder how long to watch them do it wrong. I don’t want them to give up in frustration. I remember well my own feelings of inadequacy. How can I offer unasked for help but maintain their dignity? I solved my dilemma by doing what I once feared the most – I give them an opportunity to watch me correctly use those frustrating machines. And yes, they watch.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’d watch her slowly and methodically do ten repetitions with a hydraulic exercise machine, rest, ten more, rest, ten more.
Well, not quite that fast. She’d tentatively slide off the padded seat, move her outstretched hand to grasp the next machine, guide her body along, slide onto the seat gently, and adjust the weights lower. Her excruciatingly slow paced limp between the machines was offset by her firm determination. I wondered about her story. Did she need to overcome similar phobias about gyms to my own? Did her family encourage her like mine, or did they try to dissuade her, fearing an injury?
Even though she was not a classic exercise role model, she motivated me. More than 20+ years my senior, she had fleshy hunched shoulders, and a potbelly. Watching her finely wrinkled face pinch while straining to do weights convinced me that neither age nor health nor ability would ever hinder me from exercising. The image of her exerting her aching aged body will keep me steadily working out at the gym, even if, no- even when -I become as slow moving as her.
For this elderly bent over woman completed her daily gym workout, with her oxygen tank trailing behind her.
She will always be my prime inspiration.