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Annie Littlewolf has commented on my articles every so often, and this afternoon she sent me a doozy. She was responding to a piece that I had written in response to one by Jane Trombley (okay, Jane, see what you started?). This was the story, and here is her response (with her permission). See if this doesn’t resonate very deeply with some of you:

Julia, boy — what a timely article for me! In our small town, we have a Community Rec Center. They offer a small gym, some yoga classes, pilates classes, zumba, a pool and a water aerobics class — the usual. I joined — and although it is affordable, it’s not THAT affordable. You must pay per visit, or buy a ticket for 30–35 visits, which is cheaper — but I want to try the classes first before paying for 30 of them, ya know?

And yes, I’m 66, have gained about 30 pounds over the last two years — stress and lack of exercise can do that to me. I want to get it off, but actually feel close to terrified of going to the gym and feeling JUDGED for just about anything. I signed up for water aerobics, though I haven’t been in a pool since I was 11 years old, never took swimming lessons — will the others or even the teacher get impatient with me? Who will be there at class? Skinny Olympic-style swimmers and ME? Geez. I bought a swimsuit that covers most of my worst spots. Pilates — I don’t even really know what that is about — and it frightens me to come in as a newbie. Yoga — used to do it all the time and was good at it. But over the last 5 years or so, I’ve broken most of my toes, and it truly hurts to try to go from Downward Dog to Plank — I absolutely have to wear tennis shoes, and will they say “wrong!”??

I read your article, and though it was mostly about apparel, it also implies just about any judgement or criticism. I want to get healthy and strong again, I want to participate freely. Yet, I hold back, fearing so many things. I know way too many women who are so incredibly judgmental and who scrutinize other women, and while I understand they must be quite insecure, it still hurts and it still bothers me.

I’m going to try to get brave and go. Just do it, as Nike says.

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I can’t speak for you or anyone else, but as a one-time fattie, with a tender ego, I know precisely how this feels. Annie’s my age, and like so very many of us she has put on a bit of a muffin. Most of us over forty can relate as we look with a combination of horror and genuine surprise at bits that didn’t used to be there hanging over bits of us that used to fit inside our (pants, bras, undies, sweatpants, etc.)

Male or female, we all deal with some version of how ages causes us to change.

So how to answer?

Here then are my best ideas, and to those of you who are reading this, may I please solicit your best practices as well? Because this is a shared concern for anyone who really wants to get back in the game, get more fit, but has a fear of the formidable folks Who Seem To Have It All Together. Which is, of course, nobody, but it sure seems that way at times.

  1. First. YAY! You joined. Three quarters of the battle won. Next battle: showing up. You’ll get there, when you’re ready. Wanna make it even easier? This isn’t about becoming a super-geezer. This is simply finding a way to have fun while getting fitter. On your terms.
  2. Stress can cause weight gain. Check your cortisol levels. If high, please Google how to reduce it naturally. One is ... surprise! …. Exercise! Your instincts are spot on. Now you’re stressing about methods to reduce your stress. You see how we are?
  3. Everyone worries about being judged at the gym. In fact, most of us are so worried about how we are being judged that we hardly even see anyone else. How silly we are. Those who do judge are often cascading their insecurities on others. Want to give them permission to ruin your fun? Didn’t think so. This is hard, but you’re not there for them. You’re there for Annie. Period. Full stop.
  4. Annie, water aerobics are for you and me and anyone else who: needs to workout in a gentle environment. Would prefer to keep body under water for most of the class. Needs to laugh. Any instructor in any class who shames a student needs to be reported and fired. Period full stop. Also- because water aerobics are so gentle, the folks who love them are going to look more like you. The Olympic hopefuls are at the other end doing serious laps. No laughing. You want the fun end of the pool. Make your part of the pool the fun part of the pool.
  5. Everyone over child bearing age has “worst spots.” You think models don’t have cellulite? Can you spell “A-I-R-B-R-U-S-H?” We ALL have slop and glop and scars and wrinkles. Battle scars, Annie. Wear them with pride. The more fun you make of yours the more people can laugh about theirs. We are all in this together, honey. What jiggles causes giggles. Permission. To age. To be. Very. Human. Make your corner of the locker room the fun corner of the locker room. See what happens.
  6. Pilates is a fancy word for work your core. EVERYBODY starts knowing nothing. Dear god Annie, you should see me try to join a long-standing step class. Nobody can watch me because they’d fall down laughing. Why? Because I AM FALLING DOWN LAUGHING. I’m as graceful as a dyslexic camel after two bottles of Scotch. Make your corner of the class the fun corner of the class. (See a pattern here?)Nobody gets it the first time. In anything. If we did, nothing would be a challenge, and it wouldn’t be worth the effort. As for Zumba? The way I see it, the idea is to move, have fun, enjoy the music, as opposed to doing everything right. Honestly who cares? This is about play.
  7. Yoga? One of the most user-friendly of all classes. All you gotta do is tell the instructor. Ask her if tennies are a problem, and if so, what do they suggest? You have to have support. Ballet flats? Lots of options. Or ask her how to replicate the same kinds of stretches without pissing off the piggies. You aren’t the only one with limitations, injuries, special needs. It’s the instructor’s job to help you get the most out of your class. Each of us carries the dings and divots of a lifetime of, well, life. Especially if you’ve been away for a while, you’re not likely to wrap your leg around the back of your neck. Or, you may. They may cart you out on a stretcher but think of how impressed they’ll be.
  8. Assuming that everyone else is an expert (HAHAHAHAHAHA) and that everyone else is in perfect shape (PLEASESTOPIMDYINGHERE) is a great way to avoid showing up. At my rec center, there isn’t a single person who is perfect. Even the serious swimmers have plenty of jiggle in their thighs. Our water aerobics gal is in her eighties. Giving them permission to be just as self-absorbed as you are about your aging body (thank you, as are we all), gives you compassion. Empathy. Those are the gateways to having a sense of humor about what we can’t help- age- and the inevitable insults that accompany it. When showing up at your rec center is a guarantee for a good time, for laughter, for social interaction, for play, you will find a way to be there Every. Single. Day. That’s bang for your buck. You may end up becoming one of those instructors one day. Never underestimate yourself.
  9. As for the judgmental folks? See #3. Have trouble with that? See #3 again. This is for you, Annie, and for those you love you and want you to be fit and happy. That would be your entire circle of friends and, of course, me. And everyone else on here who wishes you well.
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As for the weight? I asked my local Natural Grocers for an appetite suppressant. Please talk to your nutritionist if you have one. I would rather not make suggestions for anyone else, as what works for me may not work for you. What I do know is that when I am busy having fun, LMAO, and completely distracted from worrying about which additional boob might be escaping from my bathing suit, I tend to play hard, laugh harder, and relax more. That means I eat less for the wrong reasons. Until I drive by a donut shop but I digress. No, I divert, and end up with glaze on my chin.

But let’s be clear. Exercise alone is NOT a weight loss plan. Proper eating is. Exercise is good for you in a thousand ways but it is not the magic pill for weight loss. What you eat, why you eat, when and how much are all far more important if you want to drop a few. A good nutritionist, again, is a key ally.

However, fit doesn’t always mean thin. So while the weight may trouble you, let’s leave that at the door for now. Go move, learn, laugh, have fun. See what your body does. How it responds. Be patient with it. It will likely be sore (yeppirs) so go easy for a while. Then as you build your strength and confidence, you may notice that your eating habits change. There are plenty of studies that say that even if you took a long break a return to exercise means you reap all the benefits. You may not get your waistline back, or at least not all of it, but you will be more fit, more fun, more happy, more confident, and you will likely live longer. Which is a great way to use up all your savings while you’re still alive: be healthy enough to enjoy your own money.

Not bad reasons to sign up at the rec center.

Please note here, that the rec center or gym is hardly the only option. It’s one of thousands of ways to get going again, as one of my readers comments below. The point is to find what works for you. What I like about local community and rec centers is the social engagement. For those of us who are single, that’s a terrific way to have contact with folks who are similarly motivated, and who need each other’s gentle encouragement to stick with it. If you’re good on your own, there are endless options. The point is to start.

If anyone else who has dealt with Annie’s dilemma would like to chime in, please do. What suggestions do you have which might help her deal with these very real discomforts? Your suggestions will help everybody so please chime in. I know some of you are fitness instructors so your input is really valuable. Thanks in advance.

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