Exercising my options? Retirement reflection #7

Portrait of the author – LIE – Sam Knight, Unsplash

Well it came sooner than expected, though the timing is excellent. While I am only sixty-three and a half years old, today I joined my first seniors exercise class. Now they don’t advertise it as a “seniors” class. It’s described as something to do with “healthy bones.” I thought my bones were fine; it’s what sticks to them that raises concerns, maladies including arthritic stiffness, precarious balance and declining strength.

The class blurb also says something about your “core,” something I have searched for, for years—it’s down there somewhere I’m sure. So there we were, a gathering of folks embodying what the Prayer Book calls people of “all sorts and conditions,” all with proof of vaccination, government issued photo ID, a need for conditioning and in my case old, tired sweatpants with no elastic left. As I stretched toward the ceiling by pants raced to the floor, a wardrobe malfunction repeated over and over again. My country for a safety pin!

The instructor was lovely, lean and fit, a fine sample of humanity worthy of emulation. In her welcome she stressed that we should take things carefully, do only what we could manage, and check with our doctor if we had a problem with any of the seven triage questions. I need to contact my doctor.

We met in a spacious gymnasium shared between our gentle, unassuming group and a rather intense basketball-playing conflagration of twenty-something college males on the other side of a screen. The effect was to make me realize what poor condition I am in. They leap around, shouting “here, here” as they try to avoid travelling (many have indeed travelled from all over the world) in order to share this space with a quieter and less fit group of, here comes the word “seniors.”

Readers must realize that for me, exercise is anxiety-producing. In a similar way during my ministry career I would emerge from hospitals committed to taking better care of my body–better eating, less stress and of course, more exercise. Well like New Years resolutions the results have been mixed, until today, my first seniors exercise class.

In our three-by-four-foot taped square on the floor, we stretched and stood with shoulders directly aligned above our planted feet, learning the thirty-second routines, sometimes solo and at other times in combination with other actions. Holy coordination Batman! We reached for the heavens, stretched to the side, hands open-palmed, lurching front to back and back to front. We shifted (almost forgot the “f”) our weight (in my case considerable). We enjoyed the musical accompaniment of Motown hits, too many to name here. I did however enjoy Rescue Me when my pulse raced to meet my heaving chest, supported by dancing feet in balance-challenged isometric exercise.

Back for a moment to anxiety-productive exercise. So many other people seem to love exercise. Our instructor just smiles through it all. Situated at the front of the class I can glimpse her exultation through my sweat-stained eyebrows. My theory is that if you are born with a great body it’s not that hard to keep things ship shape. If you are born however with a “unique” body like me, well the odds are against you.

When I bellyache about exercise I am encouraged by the phrase, that exercise “helps us take good care” of our body. It’s a Biblical, practical and wellness-centered practice. “Cherish yourself” I repeat with cautious conviction. This class, cycling and swimming are my ways of investing in self-wellness. Time in retirement helps bring this activity front and centre. It also crushes many typical avoidance excuses.

Concerning exercise I do have particular negative memories. I spent my early school years in a small private school in Victoria where students were encouraged to excel in both the classroom and on the sports field. Well, one out of two isn’t bad; but the stigma of being picked last in most team sports hurt at the time, and admittedly still lingers. And then there’s the Canadian Fitness Challenge of the early 1970s. In that national fitness project, all students were required to be assessed and then compared to other kids. You were either fit, or you weren’t. Guess which club I joined. I was really good at sit-ups however, which may explain why I have an abdominal hernia now.

Fortunately in Grade Eleven I made a big mistake, an error with a wonderful outcome. In registering for courses I signed up for Physical Education in a full year class, not in a semester offering. This class attracted all the athletes who wanted to play the full spectrum of summer and winter sports. So they were confident and talented and would take a chance on me, and not always pick me last. They would pass me the ball! Also the curriculum devoted more time and energy to individual sports. So I started running.

Back to our present class; the music has changed. No more Motown. It’s slower, more fluid and calm; we are clearly heading towards warm down. I can see the Namaste gesture on the horizon. I listen as a slowly plucked sitar moves us towards the door. I do feel relaxed and yes, well exercised. No one is forcing me to attend this class; it is as they say, optional. That said in exercising this particular option, I can look forward to Thursday when we do it all over again.


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