Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Benefits of Exercise

Siblings, raised in the same environment could not have been more different as children. One was outside from day-light to dark, shepherding (rabble-rousing?) the neighborhood kids. Always active, fit as a fiddle. The other was inside, with her nose in a book, a pencil in her hand, desperate to write down the stories that lived in her head. Three guesses which one was me. Here’s a clue- though both are still very active and creative, only one writes a monthly column in a monthly magazine. (Ha!)

I was not totally averse to playing outside as a girl. It just took something exciting to pry me loose from my beloved stories. If there was a game of freeze tag or kickball happening, I could usually be drafted. But just running around aimlessly wasn’t my cup of tea.

As I got older, exercise was just a by-product of some other activity I enjoyed. I became a fairly good swimmer because the municipal pool is where all of my friends hung out each summer. Swimming lessons were accomplished in self-defense, as some of those boys thought “dunking” girls the greatest past-time ever.

When my Mom determined that she needed to lose weight, we all took up bike riding. We covered every inch of our small town, usually after supper in the evenings. Our route was gauged by how long it would take us to arrive back home. There were only a few times when we had to utilize the battery operated lights that were strapped to the handlebars. Besides developing strong leg muscles, we learned the rules of the road, and a good sense of direction. I can still find my way around that town on return visits, after having lived elsewhere for over 40 years.

I’m quite sure that around that same time, I walked my first and only marathon, from one end to the other of the same town. The event was the March of Dimes walk-a-thon, and I was motivated by the chance to raise money for a good cause, and by spending an entire day accomplishing what seemed an insurmountable distance of twenty-six miles with my best buddies.  We started at about 8:00 a.m. and finished around 5:30 p.m. I don’t recall a lot of people crossing the finish line after us. Nowadays, marathoners train for months. I’m reasonably sure I hadn’t given any thought to a training regimen, and I most assuredly slept for the whole next day.

Even my love for drama and music prompted opportunities to stay in shape. In theater class, a friend and I performed musical sketches in competitions. One of these involved some fairly involved choreography in top hats and tails. All these years later, she’s still at it, performing with the Sweet Adelines, a female barbershop quartet organization. And me, well, I’m not sure I could focus on singing and dancing at the same time these days.

Speaking of coordination, I managed to muster quite a bit of that when I was a member of the marching band. Pre-sunrise practices on the football field and on the city streets; memorization of countless show tunes and marching formations; hour after hour of “do it once more”; this was as close to being a real athlete as I would ever get.

After moving to Arkansas, I learned to water-ski, mostly to feel a part of my new “lake-loving” family. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of rising from the water, at first on two skis, and soon balancing on one, slalom-style. Then, of course, staying up was simple, as long as the driver of the boat kept a constant speed, and a safe distance from obstacles. I still tease my step-brother about the time he was driving the boat and the motor came to a stuttering stop. Out of gas? Only temporary, as he had a reserve can in the boat. But what a disappointment, to come to an abrupt, splashing halt. His circle back around seemed to take forever, but thankfully, my ever-present ski-belt and the ski itself kept my head safely above the fishes.

            When and why did I stop water-skiing? I am not really sure. At any rate, that activity is long in my past now, and my body will never be able to rise to that occasion again.

          While raising kids, sticking to a hard and fast routine was not in the picture. I managed some aerobics classes in the days of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”, but had to stop when I bounced a little too hard on my ankles. Walks around the still sleeping neighborhood before work each day were always enjoyable. When and why did I stop that? Hmmm.

          Now, I have discovered an activity that again combines my love for music with movement and flexibility. Early morning Zumba classes provide the challenge of keeping up with ladies half my size, and with twice my energy. Every now and again, I get the feeling that I may be “getting it right”, and that is a totally energizing sensation.

          The point of all of this? Whatever your motivation, keep moving! Inactivity is our biggest enemy as we age. It is so much easier to keep something up than it is to relearn and start over. The weather is not an excuse. There are plenty of sunshiny days ahead, and lots of activities also happen inside! Enjoy, and stay healthy!


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