It's one of the top places you'll find me other than home, the office, or the supermarket. I admit that hesitantly for fear of sounding shallow because of 80s flashbacks of supersvelte women in leg warmers doing endless leg lifts. But the gym scene has evolved, and it's no longer just about the exercise.
I've often dragged my butt to exercise class deflated after a grueling workday or dealing with difficult family issues and left with a clear head and hope for lighter days. With my pregnancy, exercising regularly before and after delivery gave me stamina and the physical and mental health to have a near-effortless experience.
I've made unexpected connections through the gym. My longest friendship since living in Boston is still going strong because, despite career and life changes, we attend the same gym. A Haitian woman attending my Zumba class thanked me afterward that, for an hour, she was able to take her mind off of family members still missing from the earthquake. A cancer patient and Zumba fanatic who had seen me for nutrition counseling recently passed away, leaving me with a greater ache than I expected.
I've been lucky to find classes that, amidst sweat flying in every direction, induce pure exhilaration. Obviously not everyone feels that way; some equate the gym with going to the dentist. But, for most of us, exercise isn't really a choice. We need it to control our weight as we live in dietary extravagance, we do it to feel better about our bodies, and we reap the physical and emotional benefits it almost always offers. You can spend peanuts on a great exercise routine with just a few DVDs (even borrowed from the library) and finding a safe walking route. But many of us choose a gym because it's year-round and we know deep down that having to pay a monthly fee can be a major motivator to keep us going. The choices are vast: YMCAs offer affordable monthly rates and have some of the best Zumba classes around. All-women's gyms remove the various distractions men may cause (not meant to sound sexist but you know exactly what I mean!) and often offer childcare. A growing number of clubs are affiliated with medical centers if you have a disease condition that needs extra addition or personalized training.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent exercise recommendation is two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-level exercise each week (can be broken up into 10 minute chunks) and muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. Or, if you're up for the challenge, one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly, like jogging or biking on hilly terrain.
Some kindly advice from a gym rat: Do make exercise part of your lifestyle but don't be too militant. Take a day off when you need it and don't feel guilty. Be on an endless search for instructors who inspire you and don't waste your time or money on a gym that you dread going to. Most importantly, have a sense of humor: check out these blogs for a good chuckle!
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