Millions of people make a resolution each January to exercise— either for weight loss, better movement, cardiac health, or overall fitness. Many fitness clubs offer incentives in the first few weeks of January to entice people looking to shed those holiday pounds. Like thousands of other people, I shopped the membership “sales” and joined a new gym this week. My goals for the year:
1) Lose the 20 pounds that I’ve gained over the last 4 years
2) Be able to get through a whole exercise class without my knees swelling up
3) Break my 5 km walking barrier and walk a half marathon.
These are the same goals I have made for the last two years. Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy exercising unless it’s disguised by a nice walk in the park or a fun afternoon canoe trip. I read today that gym memberships surge in January and then fall by 20-30% by March. Most people start strong, but within 3 months, lose their ambition and stop going to the gym, which is a hefty loss both in physical progress and in the pocketbook.
Every year, I vow to exercise at least three times a week, but like so many other people, I lack the ongoing willpower to make exercising a habit I can’t live without. I am a master of excuses like: “I’m so tired from work,” “I don’t have time today. Tomorrow, I’ll go tomorrow!” and “Man, my knees hurt today.” I’ll be really good for 2 weeks or maybe a month and then I’ll flare or get really busy, get off my schedule, and then I won’t exercise for 3 months. And I can definitely feel the difference when I do not stretch or exercise. I fatigue easily. I feel stiff and inflexible. My knees crunch and pop and they strain more easily.
With the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis, it is easy to get discouraged or to lose the motivation to keep exercising. The following are some things to keep in mind when choosing a gym and setting up a fitness program that will hopefully help you maintain the motivation to keep persevering.
• If you choose a gym, find one that is close by (a distance that you are realistically willing to drive), affordable, and has most of the facilities/activities that you are looking for. If you are limited in the equipment you can use, and the gym doesn’t have activities that you want or isn’t willing to cut you a special limited rate, then find another alternative. Distance and limited exercise options/boredom are common pitfalls.
• While checking out the facilities, also check out the people using the gym. What kinds of people use this gym? Do they seem like mostly Mr. America types or are there people of all shapes, sizes and ages? Ask yourself if you’ll be comfortable in that particular setting. The most intimidating thing about gyms for me is the people. I’m a very self-conscious exerciser and I prefer either women-only gyms or gyms with people of all ages and abilities.
• Take advantage of free training sessions with the personal training staff. Many gyms offer programs where a trainer will work with you to assess your baseline fitness level and will use that along with your goals to set up a personalized fitness program. Many then offer a few free follow-up sessions per year to revaluate and set new goals.
• Make sure the trainer you use has a degree from a reputable program and has experience working with people with chronic illnesses or health issues. For people with RA, it can be frustrating trying to make a “professional” understand your particular needs and limitations when he/she does not have experience and training working with people with health issues.
• Find a workout buddy. This is one of the best ways to stay motivated. Either sign up with a friend or make an effort to meet people at the gym. Ask the gym’s member services department if they have a way of pairing people or keep lists of people looking for workout partners. You don’t necessarily have to workout with your buddy, either. If you have different ability levels and can’t find common activities, you can agree to meet at the gym at certain times, do your workout and then meet in the hot tub or sauna afterward. Just having this moral support and opportunity to talk about your workout is a motivator.
• Before joining or during your “trial period,” make sure there aren’t long lines for facilities/equipment that you want to use during the times and days you plan to work out.
There are about 6 gyms within 15 minutes of my apartment, including the gym at work. My criteria were 1) affordability, 2) a pool, free yoga and Pilates, and enough elliptical machines, and 3) members of all ages and abilities. The pool alone automatically narrowed my choices down to 3. I ended up joining the biggest and most expensive gym, which was not my intention. It’s more like a small city than a gym, but it was the only one that had an indoor dedicated lap pool (in addition to gigantic indoor and outdoor pools with designated family areas separate from the water exercise and lap areas). It also offers free yoga and Pilates classes and free time with a personal trainer to get me started on an exercise program, along with 3 more follow-up appointments this year.
Several coworkers and people from my choir go to that gym. In fact, a friend/coworker and I are planning to work out together at least twice a week if we can. She doesn’t like water aerobics and I can’t do the kickboxing and intense classes that she likes, but we’re going to try the yoga and Pilates classes and the dance-based classes. On nights when we do our own things, we’ll meet in the hot tub afterward. Hopefully this will help both of us keep motivated.
So I’m excited for my latest foray into exercise. My first yoga and Latin fusion aerobic dance classes were great, and modifying the exercises wasn’t a problem. In the yoga class, the instructor spent quite a lot of time in positions requiring hand support, which quickly made my wrists and elbows hurt. I’m also weak in the upper body and can only support myself for about 10 seconds at a time. So I supported myself on my forearms where I could and just skipped some positions. In the Latin dance, my knee began to swell after about 30 minutes from all of the twisting. My solution, I won’t be wearing tennis shoes on the hardwood floor anymore. Next time I’ll wear socks or dance slippers or I’ll just take it easy and pick up my feet more. I’m looking forward to my session with the trainer and a new healthier lifestyle for 2007!
Do you work out at a gym or have another fitness program you would like to share? What things help keep you motivated? What exercises/classes do you find fun and beneficial for your RA? Leave me a comment below!
Published On: January 10, 2007