Fitness and Starts

It’s official. I’m fit. Well, sort of.

In keeping with my New Year’s resolutions, I decided to shake up my exercise routine, which had dwindled to a Pilates reformer class once a week plus morning stretches, and joined a local health and fitness center last week. As part of my new membership, I took a mini-fitness test, to determine my baseline.

After about a half-hour of various activities, including taking my blood pressure, recording my weight, measuring body fat, testing my strength and flexibility, and walking the treadmill, plus running all the results through a complicated formula, it was determined that I’m in pretty good shape, overall.

Not bad for a 60-year-old woman who’s had scleroderma half her life.

Now for the qualifications. Resting heart rate, aerobic fitness and blood pressure are all in the fit-to-excellent range. This came as a huge relief, because I do face some real challenges if I have to accelerate rapidly from 0 to 60, related to exercise-induced pulmonary hypertension. I’ve had some pretty frightening episodes of running to catch trains over the past couple of years that left me struggling for breath. One of my top priorities is to improve my aerobic fitness as well as determine my limits, so I can make better decisions about when I can push myself and when I can’t.

What I need to work on most, not surprisingly, are building up my strength and improving flexibility. (No, that’s definitely not me in the photo. Just wishful thinking.) And the old body-fat-to-muscle ratio could use some work, too, even though I’m on the thin side. Nothing like menopause to make all your body fat sink into your hips and thighs.

So, now the question is, what exercises to do to get stronger and regain whatever flexibility is possible? With the help of fitness center staff, I went through all the equipment and figured out what my routine should be. The center director, after reading up on scleroderma, reviewed classes with me and made recommendations. The next day, I tried out a group class that was a mix of yoga and Pilates, set to music. Over the weekend, I recovered.

The big advantage of this arrangement is that I can go to the gym whenever I want to work out, and most of the classes I’m interested in are in the late morning—well-suited to my work-at-home arrangement and very appealing in the winter, when going out at night seems overwhelming because of the cold.

The flip-side disadvantage is that I no longer have a set class schedule—so I have to be sure to plan ahead and make an appointment with myself to go exercise.

Despite muscle fatigue and some tender joints by week’s end, I did notice three major plusses:

  • The treadmill workout woke up my brain. I really felt much more clear-headed afterwards.
  • I slept better after I exercised. I’ve always noticed this, but it was quite striking after both days of visiting the gym.
  • I had more spring in my step. This was also surprising.

All encouraging signs, enough to keep motivated as I figure out what I really enjoy the most. As one of my rheumatologists once told me years ago, exercise is essential to my health and well being, but I need to find something I really love, in order to stick with it.

For someone who used to hate gym class in high school, I guess I’m making progress. It’s about time.

Photo Credit: QuinnDombrowski via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

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