Twenty minutes on the recumbent bike, pedaling, pedaling and pedaling as I watched, on a flatscreen TV set high up on the wall, a mindless but beautiful couple blather on about Demi Moore and her mystery illness. I moved on to the weight machines, set up in a circuit. Mike, the middle-aged fitness trainer, showed me how to use them and then encouraged me through 20 repetitions on each one.
“Tomorrow,” he said, “we’ll do this all over again, but work on breathing, too.”
I nodded, pleased with myself for having done all that sudden exercise without weeping.
“Have a nice evening. Eat carefully,” he said. “Drink a ton of water. Get a good night’s sleep and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And with that, I completed my first workout at a gym about a mile from mom’s place. It’s something I’ve been mulling over (instead of just doing) for way too long. This last year or so of caring for my mom—coupled with RA and hip bursitis pain—has left me fatter and much less fit than I was. So yesterday I finally gathered up all my courage and walked my blumphy self through the gym’s doors, where I asked Mike the trainer if he could help me, a 55-year-old, post-menopausal woman with rheumatoid arthritis, hip bursitis and osteoporosis, get fit.
Yes, he said, he probably could, as long as I was willing to do my part. I asked what it would cost, and to my surprise, discovered that I could just afford it.
Until the bursitis attacked a couple of summers ago, I walked for exercise, usually two or three miles three times a week. But when I went to physical therapy for the bursitis, I was told to walk only short distances or I’d make it worse.
I didn’t argue. I couldn’t even grocery shop without my hips aching, the joints feeling as if they were coming loose. Still can’t, most days.
So here I’ve been, living with and caretaking my mom, who loves cookies and candy and ice cream and, for most of the last year, who’s been ill and housebound. It wasn’t long before my willpower, never terrific to begin with, gave out and I was enjoying those sweet, carby things with her. My weight ballooned, and in February I got scared and went back on a serious diet, dropping 30 pounds over six months in spite of getting no exercise to speak of.
Then Halloween arrived. There was candy. Then Thanksgiving got here, filled with cookies, pies and cakes. In between were restaurant meals and fast food. And then there was Christmas. More candy. More cookies and pies and mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and dinner rolls…
Throughout January I told myself to stop eating crap—my clothes were getting really tight again. I told myself, but I didn’t stop. Mom bought bags of cookies; I helped her eat them. And then I had my rheumatology appointment. The nurse weighed me. I was shocked and appalled: I’d put all those hard lost pounds back on. No wonder nothing fit me comfortably anymore.
I went to the gym again today. It was a little harder—my muscles were a bit tired from yesterday—and this time, I broke a sweat. Mike told me to expect to be very sore tomorrow. “So when you come in, we’ll see what you can do. The plan is for the bike again, the machines, and then, if you can, the elliptical.”
Wow. The elliptical. I’ve never used one of those before. I hear they’re… awesome.
I’m looking forward to making exercise each day into a habit. I need to. I simply can’t afford to get heavier and put more stress on my joints. I need to build and maintain stronger muscles to support my joints, too. And now that I’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s vital that I do weight-bearing exercise to build up all the bone strength I can manage. Rheumatoid arthritis is hard enough when I’m at my fighting weight and fairly fit. If I’m obese and weak, I’m setting myself up for more pain and disability. And chances are, I’ll end up breaking bones doing normal everyday things like standing up.
And frankly, setting my will on exercise is something I need to do for my self-image and my self-confidence. When I’m heavy and weak I feel unattractive and lumpy. But when I’m eating good, nutritious foods and moving my body, I feel better. I’m more positive. I have more energy, even when I hurt. I can smile easier and more often.
It’s not a walk in the park, this exercise thing. I’ve got to go to the gym early tomorrow morning, before heading over to my aunt and uncle’s place for the day. That means I need to push myself away from my laptop and get myself to bed. At the moment, losing those 30 pounds—and then, 20 more—again seems impossibly daunting. But I know I can do it, probably by June and maybe sooner, since I’m exercising this time.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll kill off the bursitis while I’m at it.