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Madeline Sharples: Fitness at Any Age

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I work out. I work out every day. Today I walked an hour and 20 minutes at a 15 minute per-hour pace. Yesterday I did 30 minutes of cardio at 180 strides per minute on the elliptical trainer and one hour of killer Pilates. So what? It doesn't seem that strange. It doesn't sound like I'm any different from anyone else who loves to workout, right? Well I didn't to tell you one important fact. I turned 71 years old in May.

And that's not all. I regularly take a spinning class. I lift weights twice a week and I practice yoga stretches at the end of my workouts. Needless to say I'm a workout junkie. And why not? It keeps me feeling young, it keeps me fit, it keeps me trim, it keeps my brain healthy, it relieves my stress level and it allows me a sense of control over my body.

Between the ages of four and 11 I was chubby and I was always ridiculed for it. My dad called me fatty. My brother called me fatso. And those words still sting. Luckily I grew out of my baby fat as I entered puberty, but even now I think of myself as that chubby person instead of a woman who wears a size two or four. So staying trim has always been a priority for me.

I began an exercise program early on. I started yoga during my first pregnancy; in the 80s I worked out with Jane Fonda on video; I played tennis almost every day for years; I ran my first 10K at age 40. Exercise became a habit, my way of life. It's what I do. Even when I was working full time I'd get up at five in the morning so I could get in a workout before work; even when we're traveling I find the time for a walk or a workout in a hotel gym. I don't ever want to miss a day.

However, almost every year I go through the same self-questioning: Should I keep on with this routine? Isn't it time to quit already? Aren't I too old for this? Shouldn't I take a day off once in a while? Maybe I should spend more time watching daytime television with my feet up. Wouldn't I be more comfortable in a muumuu, rather than worrying about pouring my girlish figure into tight jeans? And every year, I say, "Nah."

And why should I slow down? The benefits of my exercise program are enormous. I don't need high blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering medications, I don't have aches and pains, I have good balance, my weight is normal, my body fat index is ideal and I look good. I like that part. Though I may be old, I still like to look good. No big belly for me. That's for those folks who don't take care of themselves. Okay, I'll admit it. I have a few flabby parts, but I don't complain about them. I just wear long-sleeves.

I'm also realistic. I don't run anymore -- it makes my hip hurt, I don't put a lot of tension on the elliptical and I don't keep track of watts. When my spinning instructor tells me to watch the bounce, I want to say, "Who cares about the bounce? I'm just glad to be here." That's for the young folks. I don't ever try to compete with them. But maybe I can be an example to them -- an example of how exercising regularly can have positive effects. I'd like to say, "Look at me. Look at how I do it. And if you keep it up all your life, you'll turn out like me too -- or maybe even better."

Keeping fit is for everyone. It's not just for the youngsters. I'm a prime example of that.

Madeline Sharples is the author of "Leaving the Hall Light On, A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide," co-author of "Blue-Collar Women" and co-editor of "The Great American Poetry Show." Read her blog on Red Room.

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