Ever since my mom suffered from Alzheimer’s I’ve worried about my brain. (Friends say I should have started worrying sooner.) I’ve read that strenuous exercise can provide some protection against dementia — more than doing crossword puzzles and having a social support network — but I never did much more than walk, because I always hurt myself at the gym. Not seriously, just little aches like a hamstring strain that took nine months to heal.
But now I’m taking two athletic classes a week. This happened by accident. The local Y offered two courses called Gravity and I signed up for the wrong one, that is, the one that compressed an hour session into thirty minutes.
The better name for the class is, “Death by Total Body Workout.” Maybe you’ve seen the commercial on TV. Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris — Beauty and the Beast — team up to show off their buff bodies and persuade viewers to buy one of the machines they’re exercising on. We use a similar machine. Picture me as Chuck, without the beard, but with sweat dripping from every pore and my face much pinker.
I chronicled my first few classes in an earlier blog. After six weeks I discovered I had abs, though they were — and still are — hiding under a few layers of padding. My classmates are younger than me by fifteen to twenty years. To give them their due, they also adjust their machines for a harder workout than mine, and, unlike me, barely sweat.
A few months ago the instructor suggested I try another of her classes: “Above the Barre.”
“What’s it like?” I asked.
“A little like ballet.”
My husband asked what was involved in this new class. “Stretching, I imagine,” I said. I soon found out that the only thing stretched was the meaning of “a little like ballet.” Yes, sometimes we point our toes or stand in first position. We also bend, kick, twist, and raise small weights in the air while we push, pull and pulse. And that’s the warm up.
The odd thing is, that I haven’t hurt myself. I’m stronger. According to WebMD, “A lot of the problems we used to think of as being related to aging, we now know aren’t related to aging at all. They are related to disuse of the body…”
The workouts are important for improving bone density, balance, and, I hope, my brain. WebMd says, “More intense exercise is actually better than moderate exercise for lowering cholesterol.” This month my doctor said I could stop taking cholesterol medication. Another benefit is that I’m not uncomfortable wearing sleeveless tops. Occasionally I even glance into mirrors to admire my biceps.