You won’t find Jane Fonda here

This is a time in my life – just entering my seventh decade – when, according to conventional wisdom, I should be enjoying a deserved retirement, resting on my laurels so to speak, slowing down. But the change from brown hair to grey, losing an inch or so in height, plus the fact that jar lids were becoming impossible to open led me to my latest adventure: I have joined a gym.

I will fight against the dying of the light, I promise, but first I must tackle the immediate problem of arthritis in both knees, not to mention an unpleasant nagging ache in my lower back and arms whose flesh has fallen rather dramatically from the bone.

With some apprehension, I approach the gym for the first time. I know I am in the right parking lot because I can hear the music as I get out of my car. It’s one of those boy bands or maybe it’s one of the girl singers – hard to tell because the bass drowns out pretty much everything else.

Leotards? No way
I had struggled with how to dress. I had no idea what they wear in gyms these days. All I know is how they dressed in the ’70s (the last time I  had a gym membership): a leotard the same colour the pantyhose and, for the really fashionable, woollen leg warmers and matching headband. Actually, we were all budding Jane Fondas. “Burn, baby, burn” – but to what purpose? Nobody I knew ever got anywhere close to the ideal – in fact, most of us just drifted away.

I settled for a pair of yellow track pants and a white T-shirt with yellow flowers and “I love my Gran” written in purple near the bottom. Fortunately, it was a long T-shirt, and the dead giveaway to my age is easily tucked out of sight.

Once inside, haute couture it isn’t – more like old grunge. These young women have, indeed, come a long way. They are there not to be seen, not to bounce around in full makeup, chanting “five more, four more,” while gazing at themselves in the mirror. They’re here to sculpt their bodies. They want definition, they want to be buff – and, oh my, so do I.

Arnold Schwartzenegger look out
I, too, want to lift weights the size of manhole covers. I want to discover my triceps, biceps, hamstrings, calves, quads, abs, traps, delts and lats. I want to belong. One day, I want to  call out loud and clear, “Spot me.”

The fitness club is high-tech with gold walls, steel crossbeams on the ceiling painted purple and industrial neon-green carpeting. The vibrant colours seem to pulsate along with the music – a sort of feng shui for the fit.

There are two floors of equipment. The first floor is chockablock full of machines that look threatening. You name the muscle, and one of these babies will hone it to perfection. All you have to do is remember – from your brief orientation – how many reps, at what weight and what levers put you backwards, forwards, up, down and, in some cases, sideways. You can ask, but ask more than twice and you begin to feel like an old coot. And did I mention that the walls are mirrored?

I like going to this gym, albeit sometimes on a hit-and-miss basis, but I have learned a valuable lesson. It really doesn’t matter how you move. All that matters is that you keep on moving. If it’s true that we only use a small part of our brain (the rest gathers dust), then it is even more so for our bodies. Oh, how my body has missed that action.

Jan Bright is a wife, mother and grandmother in Burlington, Ont., with an ongoing fitness goal.