I have been going to a gym since I was pregnant with my first child back in 1984 and wouldn’t quit now for anything. Many older people think the gym is a place with a lot of young people dressed in spandex and looking thin. Having been to all sorts of gyms over the years, I can assure you that this is not the case. There are a lot of people of all conditioning levels going there and they are dressed in all sorts of workout attire and many are my age and older. The gym is a place where you can focus on fitness and be consistent.
I go to the gym because there are easy-to-use weight machines that help me stay strong for running, skiing, bicycling or anything else I might want to do that takes stamina and strength. As an older woman, I have been convinced that if I don’t actually use my muscles, they will atrophy and my bones will deteriorate. I don’t go to the gym to be thin or to look good in spandex. At 60 years of age, this is just not as important as being healthy. I want to be able to be healthy enough to play with my grandchildren and have a healthy retirement down the road. Thirty minutes three times a week seems to be all that I need to maintain strength.
My mother-in-law used to brag about being thin and never having to do a stitch of exercise. Hers was a generation that smoked, drank cocktails and didn’t believe in sweat. She ultimately had such severe osteoporosis that just moving around in her bed could cause a broken bone. My generation knows better.
There are a lot of older people going to the gym, and it’s a great place to socialize and even make some new friends. I have one gym acquaintance who is always reading a book while working out on the aerobic machines. He has recommended some great reading to me. He mentioned once that he had received some grief for always reading at the gym and I recounted how I used to knit between sets. I think we both agreed that any razzing is always in good humor and that overall gym goers are a delight. After all we are all there for the same purpose.
It’s always good to get clearance from your doctor before going to the gym. Other than weight machines, there are often saunas or hot tubs that may not be a good idea for everyone. If you are confused about which gym to choose, find one either near your home or on your way home that has good parking. I think that it takes building a new habit to get into going to the gym; perhaps three months of regular attendance. And don’t worry about getting larger because you are building muscle. Twenty-seven years of going to the gym and the only thing that’s happened to me is that I haven’t gotten larger and in fact, I am exactly the same size as I was before I had children.
Noelle Merrill is the executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.