Published April 19, 2018 in Warp & Woof
How I Hate My Gym
Let Me Count the Ways
I’ve been a member at my gym for ten years. I faithfully follow a 4-day, 160-minute per week cardio workout routine. And, I added back-strengthening equipment two or three times each week (anticipating carrying around a grandchild).
It’s so damned boring!
How did I fall into this habit, anyway? Who convinced me? How do I measure success? Do I get anything from it?
First, I blame my doctor. He told me, in unvarnished language, that my family history put me in a high-risk category for heart disease. I couldn’t argue. I was 60. My job entailed a lot of walking around the Capitol Hill campus of the Library of Congress, but otherwise no exercise. Even with my cholesterol and blood pressure chemically controlled, he was not confident of my viability. Somehow, I convinced him that my diet was not overloaded with animal fats. So, physical activity was the only preventative therapy left. It would likely bring weight loss, too. That appealed to me. He has continued to encourage me ever since – to my chagrin.
Then, there was my wife. As we celebrated our Silver wedding anniversary in 2008 with a vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it dawned on me that I wanted to keep this going much longer. The prospects might well depend on what I did to take care of myself. She agreed – and, promised to support me with her own exercise regime. Together we searched for an amenable, convenient fitness center – there weren’t quite as many in our neighborhood back then. When a new one opened, within walking distance of our house, we thought it worth a try (although we didn’t ever walk there). We’ve been there ever since. It falls into the “budget” category – few bells and whistles, no classes, no pool, or other things like that. Low risk. When I retired, and she continued working, our workout schedules diverged. Otherwise, it has remained a joint activity. We compare notes.
Retirement. That was a life change. I felt renewed. It’s possible that my decision was influenced in part by the greater confidence I now had because of my gym. I had dropped twenty-five pounds within a year-and-a-half of joining – and, kept it off, without changing in my diet. Admittedly, I had been eagerly anticipating sleeping in; but, still, the retirement that looked good before I left continued to feel good afterwards. I was 67, but felt like 57, and I’d put in my Civil Service Retirement System maximum of 41 years, 11 months. I could retire with 80 per cent of my “high three” salary average. I felt I had an edge over those who waited until poor health slowed them down. I would go while still able-bodied.
Fitness remained part of my plan. I would make up for lost steps at work by taking regular neighborhood walks, mapping alternate routes that all led to my Fitbit-required 10,000 steps per day. I settled on a health club routine of 160 minutes of moderate cardio exercise each week – elliptical, bike, treadmill. (the treadmill eventually disappeared, for the same reason I can’t run – my feet). That has been the routine ever since. Without a requirement to be in an office for eight-and-a-half hours five days a week (working from home was never permitted in my job), allocating the time for workouts was easy.
Two problems did arise with my gym routine, however. The first, doing the same thing day-in and day- out got very tedious. And, second, after my initial eye-popping weight loss, how could I measure further improvements in my health and fitness? I learned to deal with the first problem, with the help of my beloved iTunes playlists and my affinity for the banal– a legacy from my working days, I suspect.
It was the second issue that caused the greatest concern. For those ambitious souls who have fitness goals, there are apps which track their progress (my Fitbit app could do some of this, too) – but, my only goal was to stay healthy, feel good, and live to 100! The only way to measure its impact would be to stop, then see what happens. That seemed too drastic an experiment – especially as I became more invested in my workout routine.
Eventually, I accepted that my current mental state was fine and there wasn’t really anything else I would rather do with the blocks of time I spent at the gym. How sad is that? Sometimes, it even seems like stopping would signal “defeat” – this is who I am now! I’ve convinced myself that I owe my loved ones as much active lifespan as I can possibly deliver. Is this some peculiar facet of narcissism?
One other potentially awkward side effect of an old man (now 70) feeling healthy and vigorous, even youthful, is his libido. Yes, I’ve noticed attractive young women at the gym. That increase in confidencefrom new-found fitness has occasionally caused humility to give way to friskiness! The awkwardness here is more laughable than humiliating, or demeaning, I hope. I am still a gentleman – even when embarrassed.
Some gyms make efforts to encourage socialization. Perhaps not those in the “budget” category, though. Bare-bones memberships do not include many social contact opportunities. My gym most likely would not be a draw for the young single crowd — unless they were serious about their workouts, of course. I’m basically a social animal, however. What do I make of the eerie solitude of my routine? Ear buds, listening to my favorite music, prevent me from hearing any conversations, yet I see the same faces every day. But, there is no incentive or mechanism to interact with them. It’s beginning to bother me. Who are these people? Shouldn’t there be some way I can “break the ice” – without appearing to be “coming on” to anybody?
I may make social contact at the gym a project.
Everybody seems bored, though. That includes the staff at the desk. It must be even worse for them than for us members – they put in long hours doing very little except answering the phone, cleaning up, and occasionally showing new prospective members around. Little wonder I can’t get any inspiring conversation started with them. Disclaimer: some interviews for this piece have been fruitful. Perhaps they’ll give me feedback post-publication?
Despite the reasonable goal of wanting to socialize more, from the few times I have managed to overhear conversations on the floor, or in the men’s locker room, I must say, I’m not sure what I can do for these people. Is there anything they want from me? I wonder.
So, you get what you pay for in health club membership. Perhaps the low end of the market shouldn’t be expected to provide everything. Still, it’s always interesting to see what you can get out of any social situation. Push it, just like you push your body with your workout! The casualness and minimum hassle of my gym must be worth something.
Apparently, many people pay for health club memberships, more than what I pay, and don’t use them. That seems even stranger than my situation – I use mine! Both my wife and I continue our budget membership, continue to complain, but continue to faithfully attend. It must fit our lifestyles. We persist, she on her early evening schedule, me during the day. And “the beat goes on.”