Karen Garloch

Karen Garloch: Exercising with a friend can keep you motivated

The Observer’s Karen Garloch, left foreground, and her exercise buddy, Neel Stallings, right, stretch earlier this monthin during Helen Polito’s Pilates class at the Dowd YMCA.
The Observer’s Karen Garloch, left foreground, and her exercise buddy, Neel Stallings, right, stretch earlier this monthin during Helen Polito’s Pilates class at the Dowd YMCA. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Every Wednesday night after work, I go to the

Dowd YMCA

for Pilates class. I’ve made it a priority, and I don’t let anything interfere if I can help it.

I go because I like the results – toned abdominal muscles, stronger arms and legs, and the endorphin boost. But what really gets me there week after week is Neel Stallings, who has been my “exercise buddy” for almost 10 years.

On days when one of us feels like skipping, we make it because we know the other will be waiting.

Over the years, we’ve also become friends with the Pilates instructor, Helen Polito, and with half a dozen other women in the class. All of us are over 50 (most over 60), and we often save floor space for one another in the corner closest to the fans. (Because hot flashes are a fact of life.)

The class is crowded because everyone loves Helen, who is tough but funny. One minute she barks orders to “Lift” and “Lower” our arms or legs. The next she tells us how many chocolate covered peanuts she ate before class. She makes it easy to forget how hard we’re working. And we do work hard. We baby boomers in the corner pride ourselves on being able to finish Helen’s punishing sets of arm exercises (with weights) while younger women – and men – have to take breaks.

It’s proof that if you keep moving, age doesn’t have to mean infirmity.

When I was young, I exercised mostly because I didn’t want to get fat. I jogged in my neighborhood and even ran a couple of 5K races. I loved aerobics and step classes, where I actually wore coordinated ensembles of leotards and tights with leg warmers.

That was years ago. I no longer run. My knees and shins can’t take it. In recent years, when I’ve tried the “athletic conditioning” class, I nearly collapsed from all those sprints and jumping jacks.

As I’ve aged, my routine has changed, but I feel like I’ve moved to an even better place since I started mixing Pilates, yoga and weight lifting with less aggressive aerobics on the stationary bike or elliptical machine.

Today, I still want to maintain my weight for appearance’ sake, but I’m more aware that staying fit can help ward off health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. It also could help avoid injuries. More than once, when I’ve caught myself before falling, I give thanks for the many yoga postures – Tree, Eagle, Lord of the Dance – that force me to balance on one leg.

Yoga has also made me calmer and more aware of how to breathe myself into a place of peace when stressful situations arise. And as we all know, stress can be a killer, too.

The bottom line is, sticking with an exercise routine involves finding something you like and fitting it into your schedule. I go to the gym after work. If I went home first, I’d never make it past the lure of dinner and the couch.

As one of my yoga teachers says, “The hardest part is showing up.”

So find something that works for you. And show up. You’ll be healthier for it. And if you share it with a friend, it can even be fun.

Garloch: 704-358-5078

Getting started

▪ The YMCA of Greater Charlotte and most other gyms offer a variety of exercise classes.

▪ Most gyms also offer personal trainers, who can help you create the right exercise routine.

▪ If you’ve been avoiding exercise for many years, it would be wise to see your doctor before starting.

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