COLUMN: Seniors’ fitness class a lesson in humility

By the end of the class, columnist ‘was as limp as one of those earthworms you find half dead on the sidewalk after a heavy rain’

Exercising. Hate it! Especially in groups. I’ve always been fairly fit, but as I grow older, I find I can’t do many of the things I used to do without thought.

Like running, dancing or getting up off my easy chair. And of course, skiing and hang-gliding are no longer on the table. Not that they ever were, but I do like to keep my options open.

So, it seems, the time has come. I’ll have to start exercising so I can continue to do the things I am still able to do, like housework, which, for the record, is another thing I hate doing.

When you think about it, there’s a certain vindictive irony in this situation — I’ve got to begin attending a hated exercise group in order to continue doing my despised housekeeping.

I’m not entirely sure I see the benefit in this, but my doctor says I must, my friends say I must, and I can no longer find my carpets under multiple layers of dog hair. Every day, poor Hunter gazes pleadingly at me, begging for a walk which I don’t bloody feel like taking.  

My body’s saying, “Screw it. You know you want to. Become a slug and let me atrophy until we both die a humiliating death stranded on the toilet seat because we no longer have the strength to stand up. On the plus side, we won’t be reduced to wearing an adult diaper.”

However, since I occasionally have obligations to other people requiring that I be somewhere other than lounging in my recliner, I succumbed to the inevitable and signed up for an exercise class.

So, with some trepidation and a good deal of reluctance, one sunny Thursday morning, I met with a friend to join a Victoria Order of Nurses’ SMART class in the basement of a local church. SMART is a clever acronym meaning Seniors Maintaining Active Roles Together. I bet someone spent way too much time working that one out!  

We were the first to arrive, apart from an ancient old dear who was bravely attempting to manhandle a set of folding chairs onto the auditorium floor. We helped her set up and by the time we had about a dozen chairs arranged in a large circle (“Arms-width apart, Dearie.”) the rest of the class had arrived, along with the instructor, a middle-aged lady with a no-nonsense attitude and a giant stack of paperwork for me to fill out.

Bureaucratic documentation duly satisfied, I took my place in the circle. Apart from the instructor, every person there was a good decade older than I and at least two of them were twice that. I’ve just had my 75th birthday, so it felt distinctly unsettling to be the “young one” of the group. I was convinced that a couple of them would keel over in a stiff breeze. In my head, I applauded them for making this effort.

First there was marching in place. Piece of cake, I thought. I can do this all day. Then we were to stand on one leg and lift our knee, then switch and lift the other knee. Not too bad, although once I did have to grab for the chair back to keep from toppling sideways. The ol’ legs ain’t what they used to be.  

There were stretches, arms above the head, toes out, toes in, and finally, we got to sit down. I was a little winded, but hey, not too bad, all things considered.

Then we began using a stretch band. This was a tad more strenuous. I looked around at the other participants. Every one of them was right on top of this stuff. No-one seemed to be in the least breathless or tired, but I was feeling the strain. Damn! I had to keep up.  

Stretching legs, stretching arms, even stretching fingers. Finally, we were standing up again and high-stepping over a foam-rubber ball. By this time, it was all I could do to lift my foot off the floor. Then more marching in place. Or in my case, shuffling in place. Everyone else was clipping along at a tremendous rate. I looked ridiculous!

Then, thank God, we sat down again. This time, we rolled the damn ball back and forth, first one foot, then the other, and then squeezed it between our feet. Sheer torture. I begged all the gods for a machete so I could hack that damned ball into a million tiny pieces. When the instructor said we were done with it, I cheered.

At long, long last, we were done. I was still breathing, though I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it up. But I’d survived, lived to breathe another day. Awesome! I was so ready to go home and collapse, but then my fitness freak friend noted that all this stretching had added little to our daily Fitbit steppage. She suggested we walk around the block. Like a complete and utter moron, I agreed.

What was I thinking? I could barely straighten up, never mind walk another 3,000 steps. But somehow, I managed. Fitness Freak even had the grace to admit she was tired, too.  

By the time we reached our vehicles, I was as limp as one of those earthworms you find half dead on the sidewalk after a heavy rain. When I finally hit my recliner, I slept for hours. It wasn’t until Sunday that I felt halfway normal again.

We’re going again soon and I have just one small request. Would someone please write me a nice eulogy?

Bev Hanna is a writer and published author. A recovering portrait artist, she now teaches senior writers how to craft compelling stories and memoirs through workshops and online courses. Learn more at

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