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Finding Community at the Fitness Center

The fitness center about three miles from home was a hubbub of activity on this January morning. It was a cold, rainy day, and since I hate getting rained on, thought it would be best to stay warm and dry. Inside was a flurry of activity with lots of solo walkers, like me, on the indoor track, and a couple of runners keeping their pace. The fitness equipment on the infield of the track was getting a workout too. It was noticeably busier than the past few months. New Year's resolutions are underway!

Lots of people were using the fitness equipment; treadmills, bikes, arm, leg, and ab machines, and free weights. There are so many other machines, I don't even know what some of them are for. I regularly use the arm and leg machines to keep my aging muscles from getting weaker. I've started to notice that everyday items feel heavier now, and at the gym, I can lift or push heavier weights with more reps when I use a machine, compared to free weights. The pulleys help to keep the momentum going, and I don't feel like I have to work as hard to achieve results. Less perceived exertion is a good thing.

As I walked, I observed. The foggy windows on the interior side of the room revealed several people in the pool, mostly retirement age, in a group class. Next to the pool on an adjoining wall was an open door that revealed the glow of brightly lit screens on the stationary bikes, inside a dark, windowless room. I could hear the distant voice of an instructor, presumably on a microphone, helping her cycling class envision their journey and shift gears. Next to that was a busy room where women were going in with yoga mats, and there were fitness trainers scattered around too, working 1:1 with individuals who appeared to be past their prime and out of shape.

The gym is a great place to get a sense of community, even if you keep to yourself and don't join in a group activity. Being able to see the others who showed up with their own goals and expectations helped me to realize that I'm a part of something here. And I enjoy seeing the others; many of them are friendly and greet me even though I don't know them.

I continued my walk, round and round the four-lane track, and was lucky enough to see an acquaintance whom I know through another social group. She started a conversation by asking me a question as I rounded the curve into her area. I saw her at the gym occasionally, and we'd usually chat for a few minutes. I stopped and we talked about outings we plan on attending, projects we're working on at home, things we have trouble with, what we like and don't like, and lots of catching up on what we've been doing and are planning to do. Making good use of my time, I did some much-needed stretching of my leg muscles while we went from one topic to the next. I wrapped up the conversation in order to finish my walking goal for the day before heading to my office writing desk. This short interaction left me feeling good and enhanced my sense of connection to my community. It made a gray day seem less dreary.

I was satisfied to learn that I got in a two-mile walk that burned off two hundred calories in just half an hour of my time. I sweated a bit, but not excessively, and that's a good thing because sweat releases toxins. My heart rate was up, leading to better blood flow to my body and brain. Being interested in the latest neuroscience research, I knew this had a domino effect of releasing "happy brain chemicals" like endorphins that create a feeling of well-being; serotonin, a mood stabilizer, was also released when my heart rate went up; and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that's released by completing a task; and oxytocin - the love hormone - was released by connecting with someone I know for a few minutes. And the good feelings brought on by exercise enhanced my energy level and mood for much of the day. So, in my opinion, even though I love to laugh, exercise is the best medicine. It's a great way to start the day.

"Don't wait for illness to start valuing wellness"


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