Community Magazine

Gym Rat at Sixty

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

Gym Rat at Sixty

Karen outside of the
Dunigan YMCA
in October 2022.

I admit to going to the YMCA a lot.   

Because I teach biology of aging for the sociology department at the University of Evansville, I am well versed (in a generalist sort of way) on the benefits of regular, varied exercise.

This means that when I am sitting around, reading about the benefits of exercise, I will often put my book down and drive over to one of the two YMCA locations in the Evansville area: 

Dunigan on Oak Grove is just a ten-minute drive for me, but I also drive downtown to the Ascension St. Vincent's YMCA, which is only a twenty-minute drive. 

By exercising regularly, I am improving my muscle tone, heart health, balance, bone density, flexibility, circulation, posture, digestion, cognitive function, and mood. 

However, I have several reasons for attending exercise classes frequently: 

  • I am a social person.  I teach primarily online, and I am now an empty nester. My husband is a writer, editor, publisher. (He is very introverted.) I give him more quiet if I attend the gym. And then I get to chat up 100 plus people on the regular. 
  • I see the financial benefit of renting equipment from the YMCA instead of purchasing items for a home gym. 
  • I save space at home instead of purchasing equipment for a home gym. 
  • I can focus entirely on fitness when I am at the gym. When I try to practice yoga at home or jump rope or lift hand weights or even dance around in my kitchen, I am distracted by the dog, the phone, housecleaning, the computer, etc. 
  • The gym allows me to participate in all three areas of fitness: cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and strength training. 
  • I can cross-train by taking a wide range of classes.  It is too easy to injure yourself if you only participate in one type of exercise because people overuse the same set of muscles. By taking an array of classes, I get to work a wide range of muscles.  For example, I take three yoga classes a week. However, by taking Les Milles Ballet Barre classes and Athletic Stretch classes, I find muscles that I was not working despite having a handful of yoga teachers who run the class through different poses. 
  • I have role models and fellow fitness enthusiasts by connecting not only with the teachers but with the other YMCA members. We talk in the halls about fitness, nutrition, recovering from injuries with the help of physical therapy, etc. We "talk shop" about how to live in our bodies effectively. 
  • I struggle with high levels of anxiety, and regular exercise helps me to decrease my anxiety levels so that I can better work, sleep, and relate with others.  (One in four people in the US lives with some kind of challenge with mental health: depression, anxiety--GAD, OCD, PTSD, etc.--, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, eating disorders, etc.)  
I am not embarrassed by stating that I live with anxiety.  
Instead, I see a missed opportunity for people who treat these challenges as taboo. Those who ignore the issue or judge those for living with mental health challenges deny themselves the opportunity to provide compassion and support to a significant number of friends, family members, and coworkers.  Many who deny or judge often live with mental health challenges themselves, which means they deny themselves an opportunity to improve the quality of their lives through diagnosis, treatment, and support. There is hope, happiness, and joy in treatment!
Also, every person experiences acute episodes of emotional challenges such as sorrow, anger, and anxiety. We do better if we openly discuss how to manage difficult emotions. Furthermore, we are better together.  
What Is My Weekly Routine? 
My exercise routine varies from about 8 classes a week to 14 classes a week, depending on my schedule.  Here is a typical week for me: 
(RPM is a spin class aka stationary cycling. Sh'Bam is a dance class. Everything else should be evident. If not, you can search under Les Mills classes or YMCA fitness classes for a description.)
Monday: RPM in the morning, Tai Chi in the late afternoon, Gentle Yoga in the evening. Tuesday: Sh'Bam in the morning, Body Pump in the late afternoon, Step in the evening.Wednesday: RPM and Core Strength (short 30 minute classes) in the early morning. Thursday: Barre and Athletic Stretch in the morning (short 30 minute classes). Tai Chi in the early afternoon and Warm, Flow Yoga in the eveningFriday: RPB in the morning, which I leave early after 30 min. to attend Sh'Bam following.Saturday: Body Pump in the early morning and then Core, Barre or Step, followed by Athletic Stretch.Sunday: Hot Yoga in the late afternoon. I practice yoga very devotionally and not aggressively, particularly on this day, given it is the Sabbath. It's an analog to Sunday nature walk. 
Again, because of other responsibilities or appointments, I do not always do every one of these classes every week. For example, I am going to a women's basketball game at the university this week, which conflicts with one of my regular fitness classes. 
Sometimes I think that I have hyper-gymnasia, but then I skip the gym to accept other invitations. Also, my lab numbers are good (including A1c, iron count, blood pressure, pulse, and BMI), and I am free of injury. I do have osteoporosis and arthritis, but exercise helps both of these common, age-correlated chronic diseases.  
18 Biomarkers for Health and Longevity
OK. I struggle with plantar fasciitis if I forget to do exercises to counteract my calf muscles from being constricted by classes that keep me literally "on my toes." Yoga helps stretch the back of my calves, but it helps if I do additional stretches at home. I find that most of my fitness instructors also live with plantar faciitis, so bond with each other while sharing tips for exercises, shoes, inserts, and other treatments. (Some of my instructors are physical therapists, so that's a bonus when they share their tips.) I have seen a podiatrist, and I have custom-made inserts. But for people who do a lot of fitness classes, plantar fasciitis is a "thing."  Fortunately, I have a really high threshold for pain. I just work through it.
The highest number of classes that I do within a week is 14 classes--but they are not all hard-hitting cardio. I often choose to do a class and work on my form more than on maximizing my heart rate or muscle capacity. My norm is to do about 10 classes a week, plus or minus two. 
All my best to you for forging a fitness plan that works for your needs! See a licensed medical professional (i.e., general practitioner, internist, gerontologist, orthopedic surgeon, podiatrist, physical therapist) before embarking on a fitness program, especially if it's rigorous. 
Forging a solid fitness plan is necessary for people of all ages and abilities. FOR EXAMPLE, a lot of younger women start running after having children, and they neglect working on core strength prior. This often leads to injury. 
You are never too young or too old to start moving in a healthy way to improve your health, function, health span, and life span. 

Gym Rat at Sixty

Karen in the Dunigan yoga room.
December (duh) 2022.

   Three Karens on the Track

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