Inexplicably, I am getting hooked on various types of exercise in my 50s, and I will share with you what I like about each of them in future posts. I have been trying my hand at strength training and weight lifting. I adore walking. I am contemplating getting a bike. I tried Curvy Yoga and I am intrigued. I am determined to keep trying different ways of moving my body. I believe the adage that fitness is the key to independent living as we age, and know I have been too sedentary for too long. But now days my friend Karen points out that I have a new inner “bad-ass” when it comes to exercise. Heather says I have grit and even called me a beast (this, in case you don’t know, is a compliment for one who works out a lot).
My first concerted effort at exercise this past year or so has been Jazzercise and it really changed my life and my attitude about exercise. Here is what happens there for me.
The instructor stands on a small stage in the front of the room, dressed in rainbow spandex, sporting a small Madonna-style microphone. The music starts. Usually thundering: Imagine Dragons, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, even Tony Bennett, maybe even something twangy and country, and best of all Pitbull. The room begins to actually shake with all of the energy of determined (mostly) middle aged women beginning to come to life. Determined to be in bodies without judgement. To dance unashamed. To have a ball.
The instructor calls out moves and we follow along as best we can. Negotiating the choreography is part of the fun: I am absolutely convinced it is as good for the brain as it is for the body. So I heave and throw myself across the floor with as much abandon as I muster. I am, for one hour, a zoftig hip-hop dancer. Or maybe a fat, demented ballerina but I don’t care. I feel my feet on the hardwood floor. Feel my calves tighten and release. Shoulders hurt and complain when I lift the 5 pound weights above my head. I wobble when we do balance exercises. I swing my arms wildly and then, with just a little focus, my movements become more controlled.
I get teased from time to time by Jenna: fit, big-hearted, sassy and funny as hell. She is by far my favorite instructor. Good-naturedly teased for singing along with almost every song. That’s what having a 14 year old will get ya. I know song lyrics.
I feel my body warm up, my core is engaged (God, I love work out lingo), I feel a pleasant tightness in my belly and a sense of pride in being fully in my body. Well, even here— happy and engaged and in my body — my head wants to make a grocery list or re-hash a juicy conversation. But so much more in my body than I usually ever get. Breathing, gulping air, filling my lungs, feeling muscles twitch, sweating for Pete’s sake.
I have been working out hard at the gym a couple of times a week with a trainer. I actually like pushing myself and getting stronger. I plan on continuing, but I still LOVE to dance at Jazzercise. I have started trying to do it a few times a week again, since there is nothing I have been doing that seems to shrink my middle like Jazzercise. And my class is like Cheers: everyone knows my name, people seem glad to see me, and I am happy to see so many smiling, familiar faces.
I heard a host on a podcast that I actually like a great deal (It wasn’t you, Heather!) say that weight training is better than an aerobics class because cardiovascular exercise causes inflammation and weight training doesn’t. That kind of made my eye twitch. The host is young, motivated, and really really LIKES working out at the gym. I do believe that building muscle with weight training is important for those of us in middle age that want to lose fat and not lose muscle mass, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing, or even your thing at all if you don’t want to do it. Jazzercise has done a lot to help me build muscle.
Suppose you are in your 40s, 50s, 60s, or any age, and are fairly new to exercise? Walking seems to be the best way to start, but if you are ready to kick it up a notch, and don’t LIKE the gym, or running, or at least think you won’t, a class like Jazzercise might be for you.
And face it, where does a middle age woman go to dance? It is actually really freeing! My mood and self-esteem increased long before I saw actual results, but that is what kept me going — I felt better almost immediately.
And the whole idea of inflammation? It might be absolutely true that a dance-y, cardiovascular exercise like an Jazzercise causes more inflammation than weight training. Hard to believe it is a substantial, health harming difference, since middle age ballroom and salsa dancers look great and don’t seem to be dropping like flies, but I am no doctor.
There is the other type of inflammation to guard against, too, and any kind of exercise seems to be the absolute cure: the kind of angry, bitter, inflamed feeling I was way too prone to when I didn’t get up off the couch.
And I do know this: doing nothing is what really causes damage to your health. I think for a beginner a lot of this is just splitting hairs. I say start with what you like to do, be willing to try something new, and know that what you start off with might not be where you end up. I never thought I would like working out at the gym, but I do like that bad-ass feeling and the strong muscles I am building!
One more thing: if you think Jazzercise is ONLY for the middle aged, take a look at this very charming rave review on a website devoted to young women: http://www.xojane.com/healthy/jazzercise. Enjoy!
(I think I have to say, “Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program.” OK, done.)