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The Commute: You go, baby

Fri, Jan 24th, 2003
Posted in Columnists

A year ago I vowed to get more physical exercise. I don't mind admitting I was somewhat impressed with myself for making this decision. In March, I had the chance to visit my doctor for an annual exam. His reading of my cholesterol levels moving in a general direction of "up" and a quick glance at family history led him encourage my exercise decision. Now exercise was medically mandated! I was still impressed with my decision, but thought I'd be even more impressed if I could move it into the action stage.

My aversion to exercise is long-lived. I think it's related to my firm belief that moving quickly is overrated. I prefer to move through life slowly, especially when getting up in the morning, getting up from the dinner table, or heading off to yawn! exercise. Remember doing the "600 yard walk/run" in high school? It was just called the 600 yard run before I went through the system. As with most things, I didn't mind going the distance, but I was going to do it at my own pace.

Most people just don't appreciate the value of moving slowly, which is one reason I've always admired cats. Cats generally stretch this way and that way, and take their time. You never see a cat hurry unless its being chased by a dog, or there's fresh food in the dish. Rules to live by, I say.

Yet, there remains the fact that as we approach our early EARLY middle age, our bodies need a little extra work out. Fine.

So by August of last year, I knew it was time to stop talking about my New Year's resolution and actually do it. I looked to one of my favorite new developments: those 30 minute fitness centers for women only. I hear they're one of the hottest new franchises in the country. I'm not surprised. It's a revolutionary idea, and I'm one happy customer. For me, the two major appeals are the "women only" rule and the 30 minute deal.

Even those of us who aren't crazy about exercise can manage to slog through 30 minutes of something. During that thirty minutes, you move from machine to machine, each designed to punish a different part of the human body. But it's tolerable because you know that thirty minutes later you're walking out the door. Suh-weet.

A huge factor in keeping me moving is the music booming in the background. We each have particular music that is especially motivating. Songs by the Beatles usually work well for me, while most classics from the 1950's are too fast. The best are the dance versions of R & B classics. The beat is fast enough to keep me going, but laid-back enough to remind me that when I leave here, I'll walk slowly to my car, stretch like a cat, and sip a bottle of water all the way home.

Songs by Madonna seem to work well for almost everyone. Not just the rhythm, but also the image of Madonna as a role model. What is she now, almost fifty? She's had two children, survived a lot of bad press and Warren Beauty, and still looks like she's carved out of granite. You just KNOW she could kick the butt of any twenty-something Brittany, Jessica, or Shakira that ticked her off.

I have a male friend at work who finds it terribly funny, for some reason, that I work out at a place for "women only," like maybe we're plotting some kind of mass feminist takeover of the world while exercising. Right! None of us would have the wherewithall to plot anything while tackling those machines with technical names like "Oblique Twist" and "Abductor", but which we've given nicknames like "The Beast" and "Butt Bruiser".

Other than his belief that a women's gym would "smell better" than a men's gym his words, NOT mine he can think of no reason why women would prefer the single-gender gym

Oh, ye of little imagination.

I don't go to men's gyms, but I've seen them on TV, and I can tell you a women's gym is a much calmer place. There is something unmistakably serene about a woman working an inner-thigh machine: her face is placid, and only by close observation would you see the sweat forming at her hairline and the fact that she's oh-so-gently biting her bottom lip. Centuries of "suffering in silence" have taught us that animal-like grunts are not necessary. Though I'll confess to an unavoidable guttural squeak when I'm working the oblique machine, also known as The Screwdriver.

At the women's gym, we make occasional polite conversation, and smile warmly at one another, but other than that, we practice something known in the communication field as civil inattention. This means that if, in the course of exercising, someone's body part goes flying past your eyes in a generally out-of-control manner, and most of us have body parts that have developed so much independence they could apply for separate citizenship you don't look because you don't see it.

Likewise, if someone is doing a movement that is unintentionally comical, like say a modified one-woman polka for the aerobic recovery period, we all agree to avert our eyes so as not to be tempted to display any amusement that might hurt her feelings and squelch her creativity.

Since there are several different franchises, and many small towns now have at least one, I won't identify the one that I frequent. I wouldn't want to seem to be endorsing any one in particular because they're all great. Still, I have one suggestion for the next entrepreneur, and it's called "Barry White." He's the slow, sensual voice on the Arby's commercials. He could be a secret weapon in women's fitness centers.

Here's how: since these centers depend upon customers circulating rather quickly through a series of exercise machines, they all use some sort of regular signal that it's time to move on to a new station a little like musical chairs. At my center, the signal is usually a woman's recorded voice saying "change stations now." Her voice is neat and clipped, and you just know she's never had a weight problem.

What if instead we had Barry White, of "this is your appetite talking" fame, saying, "You go, baby." "That's right, move along." "Take your time, baby." I, for one, would be motivated.

Barry's a kindred spirit. You can tell by his voice he knows the value of slow movement. He understands that this 30 minute hustling from machine to machine is just the price we need to pay to continue the luxury of life in the slow-moving lane.

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