My husband and I are in our 30s, but most of our neighbors have lived in our apartment building forever and are 70 and up—sometimes way up. Going to the gym we all share is like stepping into an episode of The Golden Girls: In one corner, an elderly man totters on a treadmill at two miles an hour, and in another, women on recumbent bikes gossip about their grandchildren. My silver-haired gym buddies have given rise to some intense cocktail party anecdotes over the years (“Say, did I ever tell you about the time I found false teeth in the cup holder on an elliptical machine?”); they’re also an excellent source of fitness wisdom. Here’s what the Greatest Generation has taught me…at the gym.
1. Embrace Your Curves—Your Grandparents Would Kill for Them
When PAPER tried to #BreakTheInternet with its infamous Kim Kardashian issue, the old folks weren’t scandalized; they were envious. “At least she HAS a butt!” one gentleman exclaimed when the bootylicious cover splashed across the gym’s televisions. “You have no butt,” his friend noted. “It’s true,” he sighed. “I have no butt. And you don’t, either!” They prize the padding some of us run ourselves ragged trying to shed, and no wonder: Research has shown that once we hit 40, having a slightly higher BMI can make us look younger. Bottom line? Aim for health and strength, and don’t run yourself into the ground at the gym trying to ditch every last pinch of baby fat. You just might miss it when it’s gone.
2. Workout Fads Come and Go (and Come and Go, and Come and Go Again)
Our gym equipment is a fossil record of fitness trends: Soviet-era weight machines share space with bright, injection-molded step aerobics platforms and newer, semi-inflated stability balls. Name a training craze that’s swept the nation in the past three decades, and you can probably find evidence of it at our place. Some of the gear still gets attention: The ’80s-esque step aerobics platforms do seem to be somewhere different every time I see them, for example. Other pieces are as long forgotten as the fitness gurus who promoted them—a reminder of the fact that what’s touted as the very best way to get into shape today might well be obsolete tomorrow. Moral of the story: Feel free to fall in love with the latest It Workout, but don’t worry if it doesn’t grab you—something else will come along soon enough.
3. The Gym Is Not a Red Carpet
At my old gym full of taut, sexy, young thangs, it took me weeks to feel brave enough to show up without makeup, given the intensity of the side-eye there. My current neighbors, on the other hand, sweat like no one’s watching: One regular enjoys a Tootsie Roll Pop with each of his workouts and favors a threadbare old tee that says, “I PARTIED WITH SEXY MARIE.” Another performs a personal, ancient form of treadmill Prancercise that gives her the look of someone undergoing dramatic religious conversion. In their company, I’ve finally embraced the fact that I look like a drowned rat after an hour of hard work. A gym is a place for getting fit and healthy—so do your worst, boob sweat.
4. If Someone Who Is Older, Creakier, and More Tired Than You Can Work Out, You Can, Too
Every so often, a health attendant joins us at the gym. Behind her, creeping at a snail’s pace through the door she’s holding open, is one of our building’s original residents, a diminutive man who appears to be closing in on one of the seltzer-and-ice cream birthday parties we throw when someone turns 100. That guy—the one who needs assistance switching from his walker to a treadmill—is my personal fitspiration. When I feel too sleepy, too crampy, too interested in another episode of Game of Thrones to lace up and head out, I think of him and how he still manages to hit the gym—and I get up.
5. Don’t Get Too Down on Yourself If You Don’t Have the Speed/Strength/Endurance You’d Like to Have
One could argue that my geriatric neighbors are the original health goths: You’d be hard-pressed to find a demographic that contemplates its mortality more rigorously than theirs does. “See you on Sunday,” they say as they wrap up their workouts and head for the door, “…if nothing happens.” It’s easy to feel like life is defeating you when you’ve been busting your butt week in and week out at the gym and yet you still aren’t as fast or as toned as you want to be. But when you’re 85, the simple fact that you’ve made it to the gym is a victory. There’s a lot to be said for that perspective.
All gifs courtesy of giphy.com