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Exercise Caution
A month ago I did something so incongruous to my lifestyle that I’ve yet to tell my closest friends. Their feelings of shock and confusion will no doubt give way to betrayal. But at some point they’ll find out, so it is with cowardice that I use this column to confess that I ... I ... I joined a gym.

Please, let me explain! My doctor made me do it, I swear. He brought up exercise at every visit. “Have you been exercising? Why not? When are you going to start working out?” I felt like a henpecked husband who claims to be nagged “constantly,” which it wouldn’t be if he just painted the kitchen like I asked him for the last six months. My witty retorts to my doctor fell flat (“Sure, I run ... my mouth, that is!”), although he once asked the nurse to administer a rim shot.

Another reason I joined a gym: my husband. It was something I knew he’d enjoy (he’s weird that way), but he’d never spend the money on himself (he’s special that way). I mustered up some sincerity and said, “I want to get in shape. I want to follow doctor’s orders. It will be fun!” But we both knew it was a treadmill of lies.

It’s not that I don’t think people should be fit. It’s just that I believe in doing it the old-fashioned (free) way – productive physical labor and nervous energy. I’ve always managed to stay in relatively good shape simply and cheaply: vacuum a three-level home with a two-ton vacuum, and worry.

My worry diet includes stressing about things like unintended slights that may or may not have been misunderstood through sarcasm that never delivers in email. Some people jog; I make mountains out of molehills. “Pace four times about son’s report card ... three more ... two more. Now hand wringing ....”

Unfortunately, I’ve reached the age when nervous energy and bulky vacuums no longer zero-out the effects of fuzzy navel wine coolers and Thin Mints. So I did a little research and made an appointment for a tour of a nearby gym. I wore make-up and a sundress -- this would be the closest to clubbing I’d ever get. I imagined young singles strutting around, oiled pecs and abs framed in skimpy black Lycra. Instead, the gym was filled with single-minded people of all ages who couldn’t care less that I didn’t know how to operate the equipment. Note: the only part of the elliptical I figured out on my own was the cup holder.

With the membership fee came two free sessions with a personal trainer. Fantastic, I thought. I feigned interest to my husband and doctor for weeks, and my cover was about to be blown by a fitness expert. I burned 400 calories in nervous energy on the drive there. The first thing he asked was, “What areas would you like to concentrate on?” “The area around the front door seems nice.”

Within a month I grew comfortable with the routine, such that it is (husband talks me into going). With his continued encouraging, supportive words (“Do you know how much we’re paying?”), I may be able to avoid having to buy new jeans in the fall.

Today we got back from the gym and my daughter called me a gym rat. I repeated it like Rudolph after Clarice told him he was cute: “She said I’m a gym rat! She said I’m a gym rat!” Who knows, maybe someday this gym rat will teach a class: Making Mountains Out of Molehills.

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