“You know, you really need to get actual exercise. Walking from the living room to the kitchen does not count.”
I’ve had that exact conversation twice: Once with my grandmother, who was getting noticeably weaker and developing a habit of falling down in her driveway. And once with myself, a couple of months ago, while I was eating a sandwich and watching Parks and Rec. It wasn’t a proud moment.
I don’t know about you, but I have kicks where I really, really want to exercise, and then periods where all I want to do is loaf with my cat. Except on Wednesdays, when I suit up and join the dozen or so moms and grandmoms at my gym for a little something I like to call aqua aerobics.
Yes, in our ragtag crew, I am one of just a few young women who get wet to get their heart rate up, and not the other way around.
I came to the class after a long summer away from exercise. I had sprained my ankle in a bootcamp aerobics class, where -- at 6:30am, twice a week -- I huffed and puffed my chunky butt alongside legit athletes in triathlon and marathon commemorative t-shirts. I have rarely known embarrassment as immediate and awful as being the fat girl crying in gym class AGAIN. So I figured water aerobics, with its images of cutesy grannies in skirted suits and floral swimcaps, might be more my speed.
What I didn’t realize is that aqua fitness is not joking around. This business will whip you into shape, leaving you exhausted after to sleep the slumber of tiny babies snuggled in a cozy papoose of strength and cardio training. First of all, the class is taught by one of my favorite people ever -- Bill Junius, a huge bald dude who always wears a black polo and white sneakers while demonstrating the moves on the deck. He has the class running, jumping, pushing buoys in the water, all while yelling, “STRONG! POWERFUL! MIGHTY! WARRIORS!” at us. Have you ever tried to lift yourself out of the pool continuously for 60 seconds? I simultaneously do and don’t recommend it. Your arms will be noodles by the end.
Every time a newbie shows up to the class, they are skeptical, like I was. “Do you really get a workout here?” they ask dubiously. Check them out 20 minutes later, and they’re hanging on the deck, panting, because it’s frickin’ HARD to do mountain climbers on the side of the pool for minutes on end. It is HARD to do underwater triceps kicks with more than a foot of foam resisting you.
Turns out, the exercises we’ve been telling our grandparents to do so they don’t keel over? They’re actually awesome for people of all ages and abilities. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone gets at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week -- that goes for kids, your great-grandpa in a wheelchair, everybody.
And if, like me, you’re the lady who grabs a wall spot in yoga class because you’d rather tip into something than someone, a workout with a little give is actually smarter, says Bill, genius trainer and wearer of Santa hats during class. “It’s good for everybody because water is very forgiving. It’s comforting. But water resistance is exercise. You have the choice to increase the intensity. It isn’t a social class -- it’s a workout.”
I’m not the only young person who thinks so. There are a couple of other young women in my class -- some bigger, some smaller, one with the best eyebrows I’ve ever seen on a human being (not exercise related, but props where props are due!). And it’s not just in the pool. My friend Meghan stayed on dry land and did senior yoga to recover from a traumatic injury when she was just a youngin’. Not only did it help her get some movement and balance back, but it improved her memory, as well. The fact that some of her more mature classmates fell asleep in savasana was just a cute bonus.
So why does gentler exercise seem like lesser exercise, when it all helps you live longer? Do people think it just takes less effort? Because I can tell you: I can run a mile, be done in 10 minutes and be crying at the end, swearing to redevote my life to bread. Or I can spend an hour in my suit (can I recommend Lands End athletic swimsuits to the chesty and/or round among us? Because mine is better than any sports bra I’ve ever had), work up a sweat and be ready to hit the gym again tomorrow. Because sometimes exercise needs to be fun. Sometimes you need a little camaraderie. And sometimes you’ve got to respect your elders, and recognize they know a good workout when they see one.
Lindsey is on Twitter, contemplating joining an aqua Zumba class next: @lindseywoho.