I love working out. In my case, I love playing racquetball until I drop, or for 90 minutes, whichever comes first. Forget losing weight, dropping a dress size, or looking toned. Sure, I could get that when I was young, but now I’m older and it takes twice as much work to get half the result.
I’m 50 years old. I’ve been playing racquetball damn near every day for about six years. Before that I was a waitress for 25 years. During that time I raised three kids. I had a good body with killer legs because my job kept me on my feet and I took every chance to do outdoor stuff with my kids – walks, swims, playground play, you name it.
Then I turned 42 and moved away from a good job and did a lot of sitting around because I could and because I really needed the break, but the break very quickly became a lifestyle. I didn’t like the weight I’d put on. My knees hurt and I was starting to get sad and angry for no apparent reason. So I started playing racquetball because it’s a sport I’ve loved since childhood and I have a couple of willing partners. At first I was slow and clumsy, but a few months later I was killin’ it. I can’t wipe the floor with the best of them, but I can certainly manage some significant sweeping.
I haven’t lost any weight or inches around my waist. I’ve been eating really well for years – lots of fruits and vegetables and no junk. The weight just won’t come off and the doctors keep telling me it’s because of perimenopause. I’ve been tested for all manner of causes, only to be told by my doctor that I’m perfectly healthy.
Then I get to the Wellness Center where they tell me I’m decidedly unhealthy. According to all their weights, measurements, graphs, and pie charts, I’m obese at 201 pounds on a 5’7″ frame – a weight and height I’ve been for the last six years despite my regimen. Their explanation for my “condition”? I’m lying.
That’s not what they say, but that’s damn sure what they mean when they look at me and then look at each other as if I’m stashing cupcakes in my back pocket and they’d find them if they frisked me. I already eat what they suggest in the amounts they recommend. I already avoid the foods on their kindergarten-esque “no-no” list. I exceed the days/hours they say I should be active every week. Maybe it is perimenopause; maybe it isn’t. I don’t care anymore because I’ve accepted that I’m one of those people for whom losing weight isn’t a realistic goal.
So why keep working out?!
When I take more than two days off from working out I feel like crap. My thinking gets muddled and sadness and anger pop up for no reason. Utility bills and rent make me more anxious than usual and any little thing I’ve gotten wrong or any little mistake I made sends me spiraling into a dark corner without proper perspective. Molehill situations become mountains in my head and my thoughts snowball down a sad and angry hill. It’s ridiculous.
When I’m not able to get to the court I blast music and walk my staircase for 30 minutes or jump rope or dance around the house for an hour. I do something, anything. I don’t like those kinds of work-outs (I prefer going out with friends to dance), but the payoff is too great to miss and the price I pay for not doing it is too high. When I go a few days without some kind of workout I get short-tempered; nothing is funny; my knees swell and ache; and I avoid looking at the same body in the mirror that I thought was pretty just a few days ago. A couple of days of not working out and my clothes fit funny and I hate my wardrobe.
When I work out I feel good, but I don’t just feel good: I feel courageous, strong, funny, intelligent, and confident. It’s been this way since day one. Seriously – day one. The day I started working out I felt better. On day one I was exhausted and thought what I’d managed to do was never going to be enough. I was sore and my ankles swelled to beat the band. But that night I slept soundly and I woke up in a good mood. This is very important because I am not a morning person at all, not even a little bit. Working out has not made me a morning person, but it has made me a not-wanting-to-bite-everyone’s-head-off-in-the-morning person.
When I work out at least five times a week I am kinder to myself and in turn I am kinder to others. I drive more defensively. I walk with my head up and I smile at everyone. I love the way I look in the mirror even as my body isn’t perfect and I give myself a big old grin and a wink. When I work out I care way less what others think and way more what I think. My opinion of myself takes priority and I’m much better equipped to withstand criticism whether it’s real or imagined.
That has to be the greatest gift of working out: quieting the negative self-talk in my head. The tapes of others’ words play in my head when I don’t work out: words from the past (like my mother telling me I’m ugly or my grandmother saying I “don’t have the body for that outfit”) and even words from the present (like those smirking bitches at the Wellness Center or the personal trainers at the gym who’ve told me I’m too old to be “flogging the court floor” and that I should be paying them to teach me a “proper workout”) – all those voices get muffled and then muted.
Working out proves them wrong with every swing of the racquet, with every shot I chase, with every kill shot I make and with every slam of my body into the wall just to make a shot. One could say I literally beat the negative self-talk to death, except it only stays quiet for about 48 hours at a time. I have to go back and I have to sprint, jump, and swing around the racquetball court to get them to shut the hell up again.
If all I got out of this was keeping the mean, discouraging, and unproductive words of others from taking hold of my thoughts, well, that’d be enough, but I get so much more out of it. I love that I don’t have to see a perfect body in the mirror to love the way I look; and I absolutely love, love, love the way I feel.