2008-01-10 / Editorial

Flotsam and Jetsam

By Donna Drago

The Monday after I retired from my position as editor of this newspaper, I did a really good thing. I joined Jamestown Fitness, the local gym.

Now that some weeks have passed, I have observed that three things have happened to me. One is that I feel great. Two is that I did not gain a single pound over the holidays, though I ate every cookie I was offered. The third- and this is the big one- is that I am not suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for the first time in years.

For those of you who don't share this winter syndrome, SAD occurs when levels of natural light diminish during the shortest days of the year. In typical winters of the past, I have been unable to read books, to write creatively, or to concentrate on almost anything. I slogged around in a general funk for a month or two. This year is different and I think it's because I am getting regular exercise. And, I think the key is: I started exercising before the common symptoms occurred, rather than trying to deal with them after the onset.

My approach to personal fitness in the past would typically have included losing weight as a New Year's resolution, but by January, I would already be in a SAD funk and the resolve quickly petered out.

I either joined Curves, or took yoga classes or something. It never failed that during the first few weeks in January, whichever facility I joined was packed with people who all resolved to do the same thing. It also never failed that those same facilities were less busy in February and downright depressing by March as all the good intentions were replaced by the realities of human nature.

With very few exceptions, I have not been successful with resolutions. I either have memory lapses and forget what they were, or I set goals that are unattainable. The times I have had some success, have been when I've told myself that I must learn to do one specific thing before the year is out. Like parallel parking, for example. About five years ago, I made that my goal for the year, and by April, I had it down pat. The cool thing about resolutions like that is once you learn something you always have that skill.

In one recent year, I resolved to learn how to do a cartwheel. No details. Let's just say I failed.

Because I was a complete novice when I joined Jamestown Fitness, learning how to use all of the "toys" has been fun. I don't approach the weight circuit with dread, but rather with a sense of wonder. Asking "What does this thing do?" rather than telling myself "that looks too hard," has been my general approach to everything.

Another cool thing about the gym, and this is only because I am a bit of a neat freak, is that I get to clean off every machine I use. I like the smell of cleaning products, and for me, cleaning has always been a way to express ownership or affinity to an object. If I'm cleaning it, it's important to me. So I happily approach this task as if the equipment belongs to me. On the down side of that, I notice every single person who does not clean off their machine. I get miffed about it.

I hate to say this, but men seem to have the most trouble with this task. I have observed that most of them take one small, skimpy piece of paper towel, saturate it with cleaning spray, and then make futile attempts at cleaning as the paper balls up and shreds in their hands. I'm not sure where they learned these skills, but for any of them reading this, here's a tip: take a length of paper towels about a foot and a half long. Fold it up a few times so you have several layers to work with before giving it a couple of squirts of spray. Then have at the machine. If you do it right, the towel will be good to go for a few machines, before it's ready to be thrown away.

To enhance my gym experience, I signed up for sessions with a personal trainer. For a novice, this is a great idea because the trainer assessed my general fitness level before prescribing a series of exercises that combines weight training with cardio machines and floor exercises. The program is written on a card, so I can't forget how many pounds to lift, or reps to do. Whenever I am ready to move on, the trainer gives me more challenging workouts to increase my strength and stamina.

My resolution this year is to be happy. I can see that being physically fit plays a big part in that goal. I notice that when I leave the gym, and for several hours afterwards, I have tremendous amounts of energy and I am generally cheerful for the rest of the day. And if I am cheerful most of the day, I believe only good things can happen.

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