Exercise: It Doesn’t Have to Be Awful!


Keeping the Motivation to Exercise

Okay, I confess… I’m a slug!

I used to get up and go to the gym every morning before work. I’d work out for an hour, relax a bit in the whirlpool, shower, dress and then go to work.

It really helped me get through the days — particularly the stressful ones when running an ad agency seemed like the worst idea I’d ever come up with.

Once I retired, my gym routine did also. I let my gym membership lapse. I figured there was absolutely no earthly reason to get out of bed at zero dark hundred. And once I finally did get out of bed, I really didn’t feel like going to the gym.

After about a year of that routine, I realized that not working out was having a disastrous effect on my body: on my weight, endurance, health and just about every other thing I can name… particularly the way my clothes were fitting — or rather, not fitting.

I was pretty sure I didn’t want to rejoin a gym. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I had to do something.

It was about that time that my older daughter called and asked if I wanted to join her and my younger daughter in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Charlotte, NC. It’s a two-day, 39-mile walk through the city. I was not about to say no. I figured if they could do it, so could I, and we’d be raising money for a wonderful cause close to our hearts.

I started training for the October event in May. It didn’t take me long to realize that I loved walking. To me, there’s something very peaceful — yet energizing — about walking. I walked almost every day that summer (I gave myself weekends and rainy days off for good behavior!) I started out walking a mile, then two, then five, 10 and so on. I pretty much followed the training guidelines Avon gives you when you sign up, but incorporated some of my own ideas.

I’d put on my headphones and head out the door. I think I probably went through at least 20 audiobooks that summer while I walked. I also learned a ton of new songs!

I walked with a fanny pack that had my ID and some money. And, of course, I had water with me at all times. If I ran out of water, I’d just stop at a gas station or store and buy some more. That went for when I was hungry also.

I usually had a route in mind of where I wanted to head that day. Sometimes I’d walk to the grocery store, or to some neighborhood shops, pick up a few things and ask them to hold whatever I bought for me until I came back in my car and picked them up.

Other times, I’d meet friends for lunch. And some days, I’d walk to the mall (about 10 miles each way), eat lunch, watch a movie and head back home.

After about three weeks of walking, I found my clothes were fitting a lot better, which encouraged me to keep going. More importantly, I felt a whole lot better!

I knew walking for exercise was working wonders for me, but I had no idea what all of the benefits of such a simple activity are. The American Heart Association’s (AHA) research has shown that walking even as little as 30 minutes a day helps to “reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improve blood lipid profile, maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity, enhance mental well being, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer and reduce the risk on non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes.”

Who knew such a simple thing as walking could have such a dramatic impact on one’s health?

After the cancer walk was over (all three of us made it to the end!) I knew I wanted to continue walking and maybe even try a 5k walk/run at some point.

Since winter was coming, I had to find a place to walk indoors when it was too cold to walk outdoors. The best place I’ve found so far is the mall. I was able to keep up my walking routine, although I have to admit, mall walking is not quite as adventurous and I don’t walk as far.

I found out that there are a lot of good reasons to walk in the mall: They open early for walkers and I can window shop without being tempted to buy since the stores aren’t open; it’s out of the elements; there’s security; there are plenty of restrooms and water fountains; and a lot of malls have walking clubs, health screenings for their members and they offer store discounts.

The drawback is that after about an hour or so, I’m pretty tired of seeing the same scenery over and over.

Last winter, I decided that just walking was not doing it for me, so I bought a few free weights. Once I started working out three days a week with the weights, and continued my walking routine, I found I started gaining upper and lower body strength.

I’ve found a lot of great resources on the internet for free that don’t require belonging to a gym. Here are some of the ones I’ve tried out:

  • Weight Training for Seniors
  • Senior Exercise Central
  • And for Smartphone users, here’s the latest list of the Best Free Apps for Home Workouts

I’ve downloaded a few of the apps onto my phone so I have them whenever and wherever I want.

This winter, I decided it would be fun to try something new. I heard about a program called Silver Sneakers. It’s a free benefit fitness program for seniors offered by more than 65 major health care plans across the US.

Part of the Silver Sneakers program gives their members access to area gyms for free. Some of the gyms offer workout classes designed for seniors. The particular gym I go to offers classes four days a week in strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, have met lots of great, new people, it meets at a reasonable hour (not zero dark hundred!) and virtually everyone is as old as I am!

That said, I still prefer to head outside and walk to my heart’s content. This year I am going to train for a 15k walk/run.

I believe people have to find the exercise(s) that work for them and will keep them motivated over the long haul. I also believe that moving and doing is what keeps me looking and feeling younger than my chronological age… and I intend to keep it that way.

Hope you’ll join me.