When I retired in August of last year, I placed myself in the category of “busy retiree”, meaning that I wasn’t going to sit in the recliner and let life go by…so far, I haven’t. I learned how to blog on the web and created Easin’ Along in order to document an active lifestyle and share it with anyone who might be interested.
Helen (adorable wife) and I set out on a wonderful five week journey up the east coast, followed by a two week trip around the entire peninsula of Florida, and another week in California’s South Bay in order to facilitate a total transformation from a lifetime of meeting the demands of work to a life of “playing it by ear”. Those trips have been shared in previous posts of Easin’ Along. We have plans for more travel in the months ahead, but for now I’ve returned to the man cave and resumed life at the local level.
With no big travel plans in the immediate future, we decided that it was time to focus a little more intently on our health and physical condition. Helen has always been involved in some sort of physical activity from her days as a youth prodigy on the tennis court to her exercise classes offered at work and beyond. As for me, it’s a different story altogether.
I played a little basketball in high school, but I was too slow afoot and too uncoordinated to be very good at it. Besides, I can’t jump. After college I entered the Army and was required to get in shape. As an Army Reservist for twenty plus years, I had to maintain my weight at certain level, so I jogged regularly for most of those years. Beyond that, I’ve taken advantage of the fact that, at a height of 6’ 4”, there are a lot of places to hide a few extra pounds. I also come from an enviable gene pool. My family is an assortment of string beans. On either side of the family tree, we’re tall and slender and blessed with the trait that allows weight to be gained slowly and extra pounds to be shed quickly. That make-up can produce some very bad habits over time, and, at age 67, I have finally accepted that those pounds don’t fall off as fast as they used to. It was time for a change.
I have had memberships at health clubs before, but my track record with them is not that good. There are contracts involved, and I lose my enthusiasm for indoor exercise, particularly in the summer months when I prefer to be outside. Even when there are not contracts, the fees can be expensive or the facilities are small and, the activities are limited or designed to appeal to fitness fanatics. We needed something that appealed to us. We found what we were looking for at the local YMCA.
The first thing I learned when I looked into the Y was that I was no longer a “busy retiree”. I was about to become an “active older adult”. They had me from hello.
At the Y there are no contracts. Membership is strictly on a month to month basis, and we can quit at anytime. There are five facilities within the area that we are entitled to use. The price is a total $60 per month for the two of us, so it is relatively inexpensive, and we can bring our grandchildren to swim in the indoor pool for a small charge. But, the thing that appealed to us most of all was that it is loaded with activities that are “age appropriate”. We were handed a schedule filled with group activities for Active Older Adults (me) and encouraged to get started…now.
The activities are spread throughout each weekday and have interesting names like “Silver Sneakers Classic” and “Splashing to the Oldies”. The most intriguing class was called “Aqua Zumba”. What the heck is that?
We signed up and I made an appointment for the following Monday to meet with a young lady in the fitness center who would help get me started on an exercise regimen.
The fitness center is a large, well-lit room with big windows. It is in sharp contrast with other facilities I had used in the past where we were contained in a room with only block walls and no windows. There is plenty of exercise equipment including, but not limited to, treadmills and stationary bicycles, as well as the usual weight lifting machines. At 9:30 in the morning, the place was busy, but not so busy that members would have to wait long for a piece of equipment. One member later told me that Mondays are a little busier than other days of the week. Fridays are wide open he said. I’ll remember that.
The young lady I met with was very helpful and very professional. We went through a checklist that asked for general information such as height, weight, and age. We went through a list of things that I wanted to accomplish such as weight loss (definitely) and increase overall body strength (I have none), then entered all of that information into a computer program called ActiveTrax. I entered a username and password and I was in.
ActiveTrax then designs a program that will help me accomplish the goals I am working toward. It is programmed to give me a set of exercises for each workout session using the different pieces of equipment and the amount of weight and number of repetitions for each piece. It also lists a number of floor exercises such as crunches (ugh!) to complete. At the end of all of that, I would be instructed to complete a cardio routine of at least twenty minutes using equipment like a treadmill or stair master. Once the entire routine for each workout is completed, I will to enter the information for that workout into ActiveTrax, either at the Y or at home, and the next workout would be created based on the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of that day’s workout. ActiveTrax stores all of that information in order to track progress toward the goals I established. It couldn’t be easier.
My helper then took me through the exercises different pieces of equipment to make sure that I would use them correctly for each exercise and to establish a starting point for the program. I was told to do as many repetitions as I could for a minimal amount of weight placed on the machine. That’s when I leaned how badly I needed to do this. I went home already sore, and wondering if I would ever qualify for “Active Older Adult” status.
Nevertheless, I went back the next day to a class at 10:35am entitled “Senior Circuit”.
This class was described in the handouts as a circuit class specifically designed for active older adults to strengthen weak muscles, stretch tight muscles and build core strength. Participants will use a chair, elastic bands and balls for exercises. This sounded harmless enough, but little did I know what was coming.
I arrived at the aerobics room a bit early, but I wasn’t early enough to beat the crowd. I’ve always heard that the world is run by those who show up, and these “Active Older Adults” tend to show up early and run the show.
Being new to the class, I wanted to stand in the back row and learn by observing. But, when I went to the back row, I was informed (somewhat politely) by almost all who were there that I was standing in their spot. I had a lot more than exercise to learn… I moved one row closer to the front where spots were filled, more or less, on a first come, first serve basis.
The aerobics room filled quickly and my new classmates were busily placing their chairs in their “spots” and placing small weights, one rubber ball, and an elastic band on the floor beneath the chair. I grabbed a pair of 3 pound weights, not knowing what I really needed, and an elastic band that I later discovered was too short for someone my height, but, then again, this is a learning process.
I was delighted that there were some familiar faces in the class, as I was met by five people from an old neighborhood of ours. We chatted briefly, and I remarked at how good they looked. Maybe there was something to this exercise thing after all.
At approximately 10:33am everyone was lined up next to their chairs in about six rows with about 6 people in each row, and at 10:34am Donna, our instructor, walked into the room and marched up to the front to don her headset and microphone and welcome everyone with a big, warm, smile. At precisely 10:35am Achy, Breaky, Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus came out of the loudspeaker and Donna started marching in place and everyone immediately took her cue and lifted their feet in time with Billy Ray’s twangy guitar.
“Let’s go!” she said, “Pick your feet up, everybody!” That smile never wavered as she reminded everyone to move their arms as well as their feet. At this point, my anxiety picked up a little bit. I was a member of a fitness center once before and participated in a regular step aerobics class. It was a good workout and I was progressing nicely until one day a new instructor came in and ruined it all. This person was determined to kill everyone in the class or die trying herself. I never went back. I hoped that Donna would offer a different experience.
For the next forty minutes we never quit moving. In this session, I was ALWAYS out of step or sending my arms everywhere but in the appropriate direction. Remember now, I’m a big person and usually stand out in a crowd anyway, but in this mirror lined room there was no place to hide. The opportunity to disappear quickly was immediately vanquished when one of my former neighbors informed Donna that there was a new member in the class. So, as I was clumsily side-stepping to Billy Ray, everyone turned toward me when Donna pointed me out. As luck would have it, my arms were going straight up as everyone else’s were pointing to the side. Nonetheless, they were all very welcoming because, they too, had been a class newbie at some time in the past.
Donna was awesome. Without being domineering, she led us through the workout at a pace that was strenuous enough to elevate everyone’s heart rate, but not so rigorous that some might not be able to keep up. She told us to listen to our body, and that if we needed to slow down (or sit down), that was fine. She said this with an encouraging smile that made everyone still feel comfortable when, or if, they had to alter their own pace. You could tell that the class liked her and she chatted with some of them individually through her microphone as she took us through the workout.
“Bend your knees, Sunshine”, she said, correcting one of the participants. “How’s it going today, Victor? Did you have a good weekend?” She asked, never missing a step. Her personality and demeanor was as bright as the pink exercise shirt she was wearing.
Even though I was quickly running out of steam, I was actually having fun. The program was varied enough to give us a whole body workout, stretch and strengthen those old muscles, and then cool down while relaxing. The forty minutes passed unbelievably quickly, and the accompanying music (Brown Eyed Girl, California Dreaming, etc.) was a delightful bonus.
At the end of the session, I walked up to Donna and told her that I was spent, but that I would be back. She seemed pleased. By the time I turned around, all of the chairs, weights, balls, and bands had been returned to their proper place.
Most had left the aerobics room by then, but a few of my classmates walked up and welcomed me to the group. Wow! I’d been accepted into the club. A formerly “busy retiree” was now officially an “Active Older Adult”. I might even get my own spot!!
I flexed a bicep to mark the moment…
For now, this Active Older Adult will be Easin’ Along. Where’s the massage table?