Fit, Get Friends
by Mar Johnson
Hold on to your gym socks. There's more to
regular exercise than getting fit. Sign up for
a class, or join a group, and you get a new
batch of friends, too.
Years ago I saw an article in the local paper
about some newfangled exercise called dance
aerobics. People in the photos looked like they
were having fun, and I was overweight and bored,
so I signed up. Decades later, I'm still showing
up. It's a lovely cycle to get caught up in.
On class day, as I dress in baggy T-shirts
and knit pants, I look forward to seeing what
my exercise buddies have been up to since we
last met. We drift into the classroom, change
into gym shoes, get a drink of water. I hear
Beth tell Tommi, "Be careful of that knee,
now." Mary Jo tells Ruby she missed her
in class last Friday. You don't get stuff like
that if you work out at home with a video or
Theresa, our instructor, walks to the front
of the gym and punches the Play button on the
boom box. A mid-tempo tune signals it's time
to cut the chat and warm up; small clusters
of people from the room's edge magically transform
into rows on the wooden floor. It's funny how
we all dance in the same spot each time, as
if assigned by some aerobics goddess. A few
easy stretches and shoulder rolls get the blood
I smile to Beryl on my left as we stretch quads,
doing the gym flamingo bounce. Following Theresa's
lead, we reach toward the ceiling to stretch,
and I remember the time I was at a funeral four
states away and, considering time zones, knew
my workout buddies were gathering right then.
I missed them and knew that as soon as they
saw my empty spot, they'd miss me, too.
Theresa ejects the tape and slaps in one to
pick up the tempo. Leila lets out a "Woohoo"
with a lindy hop in "Rock Around the Clock."
The whole bunch of us lets off steam with a
"Yeehaw!" in tandem with a box step
for the "Two-Steppin' Texas Blues."
When we finish the number, Theresa asks, "Now
where else can you do that?" Sometimes
mid-dance she throws in, "Where are your
abs?" or "Posture check!" to
remind us this is more than a social club. If
anyone allemandes to the wrong corner or goes
left when everyone else goes right, we just
laugh and say, "As long as we keep dancing!"
We move into a swing step for "In the
Mood," and I marvel at the women here who
are decades older than I - my idols, my mentors
for graceful aging. If they can do aerobics
in their 70s, with hip replacements, pacemakers
and hearing aids, so will I. I'll bop all the
way to the retirement village - and dance there,
Neoma leads the chorus of "Yays"
when we hear the Beach Boys harmonize about
Bermuda and the Bahamas for the cool-down. After
that, tired and sweaty, we spread blue foam
mats on the floor for a stress-relieving stretch
in all the right places. The rows of mats scented
with floor dust take me all the way back to
the nubby, safe naptime rugs in kindergarten.
We relax and stretch from fingertips to toes,
wishing we could take a nap.
But alas, we must uncurl ourselves from the
floor, stack the mats, change back into street
shoes, and return to jobs, childcare, homemaking
But we'll be back. Three times a week, we'll
drop by the gym to dance a few numbers. We'll
take the weight control, healthier hearts, and
stronger bones, you bet. But it's the friends
that keep us coming back.
If you haven't yet found a group of exercise
buddies, it isn't too late. It's never too late.
Find them, check in with them often, and before
you know it, you'll be a fit person living a
healthy lifestyle, and best of all, you will
be blessed with the gift of friendship.
Marlene Johnson is an Oregon-based feature
magazine writer and co-author of the book, The
Buddy Diet. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org