I clearly remember the day, about 8 years ago, when a friend woke me up early one Saturday morning with a phone call suggesting that I go along with her for some free trial sessions at a local gym. Actually the gym wasn’t that local -it was about 15 miles away and certainly not the closest to where we lived. I believe I protested profusely against this rash suggestion, before having one of those sudden “you know what, why not?” moments that sometimes happen to me for no apparent reason. You know those moments when you decide to throw caution to the wind and just go with something, partly because it seems easier to make the effort to DO it than it is to carry on resisting, but also because you know that taking risks and trying new things is supposed to be a good thing. That’s exactly what was going through my mind that Saturday morning as I put on some very uncool and ancient sports kit and prepared for the unknown. Said friend had got hold of some guest passes for said gym and had decided that we should throw off our couch potato and take-aways lifestyle and join the gym revolution. Or try out a Body Combat class followed by a yoga session, at any rate. Now let me tell you, group fitness and exercise to music were simply not me. I’d never been much of a team sports person either. With very poor hand-to-eye coordination I’d never been picked for any sports teams at school. I had however done a fair bit of solo sport and activities throughout my life – I’d been a cycle courier in London for 3 years for a start, clocking up 50-60 miles a day and earning good cash to pay off my university debts, which even in the 1980s could be pretty impressive. Then I’d done a fair bit of swimming, then a lot of yoga – the type done in floor-length robes with lots of chanting and noisy breathing exercises. Consequently I’d managed to remain quite fit and healthy. But I’d never actually spent time in a gym, and had assumed I would feel very ill at ease amongst the tanned and toned lycra-clad regulars. But from those first sessions on that day I was pretty much hooked overnight. I got through a Body Combat class for a start, I got hot, I got sweaty, I kept up, and above all I had FUN. I didn’t feel self-conscious, or out of place – everyone just seemed to be having a good time and nobody seemed to be self-conscious. So I tentatively took out a 1 month membership – and when my friend wasn’t able to come along with me, I nervously started to attend classes on my own. It turned out that if you go to exercise classes on your own, it’s not long until someone takes the trouble to speak to you, then you see the same people again and again, and before you know it you’ve made new friends and you’re on first name terms with the instructors (those amazing and inspiring people you’d looked up to from day one). Quite soon I had a weekly routine of classes I couldn’t miss. Then chat in the corridors or changing rooms led to me trying other classes, including – horror of horrors – spinning! When I was in my 30s a colleague had told me that a spinning class had been so exhausting it had made her vomit. That suggestion had stuck with me for years and I’d filed spinning in the “something I will never attempt” part of my subconscious. And me an ex-cycle courier! Until the day that a new gym friend of a similar age to me told me that spinning is “just a few tracks of loud music and hard work followed by an amazing buzz” – and this suggestion had the effect of wiping out the old one, so I just had to give it a go. Several years later I now go to 4 or 5 spinning classes per week and feel bereft if work or travel means I can’t get my intense cardio fix. Yes I am now a complete and utter exercise nut. I feel withdrawal symptoms and guilt if I don’t or can’t exercise; I can’t wait to rush back to the gym when I’ve been away; my gym friends now make up my closest friends who I socialise with away from the gym. I also recently completed my first full day hardcore fitness event – and tried out some tough boot camp routines I wouldn’t have considered even a few months ago. Now I’m eager to find out where I can do more! I am even toying with the idea of taking part in a triathlon before I reach the age of 50. 8 years ago I would have laughed off any suggestions that I might ever become an exercise nut. And although I admit that I am addicted, I don’t think it’s an addiction that is causing me much harm – I do keep it at an appropriate level for my age (yes I’ve had to slow down a bit and change the way I do some things); I am sensible about avoiding injury; I try to mix cardio workouts with weights and endurance – the instructors at the gym I go to are only too happy to share advice and make suggestions; I try out new things when I get into an exercise rut….. But on the downside perhaps I have become a bit of an exercise bore – I talk and tweet about it ad infinitum to the disinterest of most of my friends and followers, and now here I am blogging about it too! My only regret is that when I took out my first full year’s gym membership I mused to myself about just how amazing and toned I was going to look after a year of regular exercise. Well, 8 years later and I don’t look too bad for someone of my age, but I’m not all lean rippling muscle, sadly. My body’s just not meant to be that way – and without adopting a hardcore body builder’s regimen, I don’t think it ever will be. But I am healthier and more flexible than many women of half my age. I was told by the anaesthetist when I was having a routine surgical procedure recently that my vital signs were in the “athletic range”. And I can pretty much eat what I like without easily gaining excess weight. Lots of exercise does mean that I have a large appetite, so I do have to be moderate and stick to a healthy diet. But it doesn’t seem like a chore – using your body and muscles physically as nature intended makes you want to put good fuels in, and just the occasional treat – especially after a hard few hours down the gym!
© Copyright Amanda Hart 2011