Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Exercising Caution

Several years ago I decided that if I continued a life of all work and no exercise, I would probably end up with lousy health. I worked in advertising, which meant long hours at the office with an extra helping of stress. So I decided to join the 35% of Americans who partake in regular exercise. This involved signing up for a gym membership and enlisting the help of a personal trainer. Sadly, the personal trainer was necessary because if someone is not waiting for me—with the potential for being extremely upset if I don’t show up—I will not go to the gym and exercise.

Why bother exercising? Fear of illness and death are good motivators. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderate daily physical activity can reduce substantially the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, such as colon cancer. It can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent or retard osteoporosis, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The first personal trainer they gave me was male and worked on the side as a professional wrestler. He towered over me like a testosterone mountain. Craning my neck upward, I explained to this hulking specimen of manhood that I hadn’t exercised in a while. I was a middle-aged woman who worked in an office all day. This seemed too complex for him to grasp. He took me into the men’s side of the gym and gave me a workout that had me limping feebly for the next several days. Was this really good for me? Before I could go in for a second session of pain, I got a phone call that he no longer worked with the gym. He had been fired for doing something inappropriate with a customer. I could imagine.

The second personal trainer they gave me was a woman. She asked me what my exercise goals were. Did I want to lose weight? No. Did I want to build up large muscles? No. Did I want to push hard to challenge my personal endurance? God, no. Well, then, why was I here? Honestly, I replied, just to make sure my bones don’t crumble with osteoporosis and that my general health is maintained with as little effort as possible. I explained that, unlike her other clients, I was an underachiever and had nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I just wanted to be healthy and feel energetic.

Personal trainer #3 says I'm a whiner. She's right.
She was clearly amused by this approach, but took on the challenge, sticking to the women’s area of the gym and giving me workouts that made me feel good rather than wounded. It is worth noting that the men’s area of the gym is filled with muscular people in tight, skimpy clothing who look like Greek gods and goddesses, making me feel puny and inadequate. The women’s section is occupied by middle-aged women in baggy attire who look like me. Instead of gazing longingly at ourselves in the gym mirrors, we discreetly avert our eyes.

People in my home state of New Jersey do not exercise as much as people from other states, according to a 2004 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. We rank 40th out of 50 states, just missing the bottom 10. The top 10 states in order of how many people said they participated in some physical activity in the past month were: Minnesota, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Colorado, Montana and Connecticut. Which were the least active states? Starting at the bottom and counting up: Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, New York, Arkansas, Texas and Georgia. So if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, or in New York, you are probably a good candidate for diabetes and a coronary.

I am currently on my third personal trainer. My second one left her husband, ran away with a client and left no forwarding address. My third physical trainer is a tough New Yorker who used to work in advertising. I guess that brings me full circle.


  1. To whomever posted comments here, and I know there were two of you, they were accidentally deleted. Sorry about that. Not sure how it happened, but occasionally this blog has glitches!

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