Originally published Feb. 20, 2012
Working in public health we know we are supposed to eat right and be physically active, but it can be difficult to find the time to exercise when working full time, putting dinner on the table, helping with homework, putting kids to bed, catching up on personal emails, and getting things done around the house. The weekends are often taken up by kids' sports activities and birthday parties, running errands, doing housework, and attending social obligations.
It is also often outward appearances that motivate people to get in shape, rather than just knowing how important exercise is for your heart and mental health and to maintain strong muscles and bones. I have been fortunate to be thin my entire life, so exercise has never been a necessity for losing or maintaining weight. But as I had children and got older, I noticed that I had lost muscle tone. Despite this, I was at a loss for coming up with a plan to start exercising. But then more and more of my friends started doing an exercise boot camp. It sounded good, but I am far from a morning person, and this boot camp started at 5:40 a.m. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this really was the best time of the day for me to get in my exercise.
Many people are familiar with boot camps. It is a hardcore, group exercise program that mixes cardio and strength training and typically lasts for about 4-6 weeks. Well, my boot camp is a little different than your average group. In fact, I really shouldn't call it a boot camp because our leader, Collette McDonald, prefers to call our group a "fit club." I joined this fit club in May 2010. The only requirement was that someone had to sponsor me, which my next door neighbor Sally did, and that I had to commit to showing up each day for the first month.
The joke at the time was that the group was called "recession-free boot camp," because it is absolutely free. Yes, FREE. Collette had experience working as a fitness instructor and brought her skills to her neighborhood. She started meeting with a couple neighborhood friends in their cul-de-sac and working out there in the mornings while their families were still asleep. Participants started inviting their friends, neighbors and co-workers, and the group is now rarely less than about 30 people each morning.
Every month starts out the same way. We warm up, and then partner up to see how many push-ups and sit-ups we can do in one minute, and then we do a timed mile run. This day is critical, because Collette keeps track of our times, and we can see how much we improve each month. It is really a very rewarding process. My first month, I was so out of shape that my timed mile was over 11 minutes. The next month, it was just over nine minutes! I was so proud of how much stronger and faster I had become in just one month.
Throughout the month, we work on all different parts of the body, becoming stronger and faster runners along the way. And all of the workouts are different. Collette mixes things up so we never get bored. Working out with our friends and we are working out on the streets where we live, although some people do drive in from various places to be a part of this amazing group, keeps it fun.
Things changed for me a little a few months after I started, when I became pregnant with my third baby. I knew how important exercise and maintaining a healthy weight were to a healthy pregnancy and decided to continue my participation in the fit club, with necessary modifications and a heart monitor. The group was very supportive. They would run laps around me and shout words of encouragement, as my speed got slower and slower each month. Everyone was amazed at how I continued to get up every morning and never miss a day. But as tired as I was, I knew it was the right thing for both me and my baby to get in that physical activity.
March 2011 was my last month of fit club before having my baby that May. It was many months before going back, but I finally just went back in February 2012. A birthday present to myself! It is hard, at first, to get back into the routine of getting up so early and to go back to the beginning again, even though I truly love all the little aches and pains indicating that I have really worked my muscles.
I was also excited to see that my timed mile upon returning was still a minute faster than my very first mile. I retained some of my fitness, and I cannot wait to see what my time will be next month. I strongly encourage other people to start working out with their neighbors and friends, to see what they can accomplish together. The support of the group is an amazing thing. You push yourself harder when other people are counting on you, and it is easier to push yourself when other people are cheering you on.