Life lessons learned from the 70+ crowd at the gym:
1. Make an experience of it. While exercise takes up merely a fraction of my day and my brain space, it appears that the older generation builds their entire day around their time at the gym. In the locker room, there’s talk of waking up hours before their swim class to let dogs out or read or get warm enough to make the drive over. Bags are packed the night before, and plans are made for showers or lunch or an errand afterward. Naps are a must, too, and built into the schedule. And don’t worry, we’ll all have a lengthy conversation to help them weigh the cost of whatever decision must be made or a plan that might need adjusting. Whatever they’re doing, these people soak it up for all of its worth.
2. Sit down when you need to. Contrary to my prideful personality that does not like to take a timeout, I’ve seen women cut out of class fifteen minutes early. Sometimes, it’s to get the shower stall they want, but often it’s because they’re just plain tired and over the exercise. Some of the men in the weight room seem as though they come just to chat. They spend exponentially more time in a chair in the trainer’s office than they do on a treadmill. I think I’m the only one who doesn’t take a rest between showering and getting dressed. I’m hopping into my scrub pants with water droplets still on my legs. My workout buddies know how to pace themselves. But again, see #1. They’re in it for the experience.
3. Pay attention to your surroundings. I’m hyper-aware of my environment most of the time, but it comes from an introverted, anxious “I hope I don’t get attacked or have to talk to people” perspective. The old folks at the gym are not afraid of engaging. I’ve never seen people react so harshly to their routines being interrupted. I watched as a woman came back to her locker one day, dripping wet from the pool, to find someone else’s lock on it. Apparently, she’d taken their regular spot and would have to learn the hard way. I’ve also never seen such community like the friendships at the gym. The older people take care of each other like nobody’s business. I’ve found treats and presents for my kids tucked inside my gym bag, once I’ve left it in its usual spot on the counter long enough for them to trust me. It pays to follow a routine and play nice with the locker room ladies.
4. Take your time. I try to be in and out of the gym in under an hour, even less if I’m not showering there. Not my elderly friends. Some of my favorites are the ones who arrive at least twenty minutes early for their class or personal training appointment. One reads in a lawn chair in the locker room, and another loves to chat so much he could talk a brick wall into working out with him. I also love the folks who know when to call it quits, sometimes before things ever really get started. I saw a woman literally leave the gym and not go to class one day, because she’d left something in her car and figured she’d miss part of class by the time she got back from the parking lot. These people do not hurry. They have no need.
5. Say what you mean. I have learned more about conflict resolution from seniors than any other group. These people know how to speak their minds and it’s beautiful. They tell the teacher if they didn’t like her music choice. They call each other out if they haven’t been to the gym in awhile. Last week, a larger woman wrapped in a tiny towel walked right into the tiny sauna while I was in it, got comfortable next to me, and asked me to adjust the light for her. If the roles were reversed, I would have skipped the sauna that day to avoid bumping up against someone else’s routine. Not her. See #1. We’re really missing out if we aren’t treating each day like a luxury to be fully experienced.
EDITED TO ADD: A reader added an incredible lesson... self-confidence and body image goals! Those gals strip down in the locker room like it's no big deal, never glancing around or at themselves in the mirror. They don't give a second thought to how they look in a bathing suit or workout gear, either. One of my favorite ladies literally pulls up a chair and sits beneath the hand dryer in the bathroom, chatting with everyone while her hair dries. Talk about efficient!