I gave up my membership at CorePower Yoga in September, in anticipation of becoming eligible for Medicare. After nine years, I said a reluctant goodbye to the Colorado-based chain that brought fast-paced, fitness yoga to the masses, at least those of us who could afford it.
Now, my Blue Cross Blue Shield Advantage plan, which supplements the hospitalization and basic clinical coverage in Medicare Parts A and B, offers free membership at certain health clubs. The youth-oriented CorePower is not among them, and so I took another step down the path leading directly to old age and signed up at the YMCA a walkable distance from my house and Lifetime Fitness, a bus ride away.
Exciting, yes, but the busing and walking will benefit my aging mind and body more than any health club membership ever could.
Four reasons why:
- I will engage in active transportation — walking (with or without my dogs) or riding a bus or bike — far more often than I’ll get to BodyPump at the Y or the Gluteous MAXout class at Lifetime Fitness.
- I notice more about my community and the wider world when I get around in a way that de-prioritizes cars, which separate us from other people. Paying attention makes me aware of how the world has changed, keeping me current on social trends, and that’s good for older people.
- I am more likely to engage with others — greeting them on a sidewalk, chatting with them on a bike path — and social interaction sparks my aging brain.
- My imagination takes flight and my worries right-size when I am gazing out the window on a bus or train or moving freely outdoors. Speed no longer is the top priority.
Being a daily pedestrian, a regular transit rider and at least a two-season cyclist have become ingrained habits. Because I live in a city — in a neighborhood with sidewalks, bike paths and several bus routes an easy walk away — I can incorporate those practices more readily than someone who lives in a small town or a suburb. And yet a walk or a bike ride can happen almost anywhere.
Active transportation is an ideal way to exercise as we age, at a time of life when we’re more serene and less competitive. (At 65, my last timed run is a decade behind me, and I never bought a computer for my road bike.) I have been keeping a multimodal diary since July, jotting down why I was grateful on any given day to have made the counter-cultural choice to leave the car in the garage and move instead on my own power.
Communal transportation requires patience, flexibility and, at times, humility — having to explain, for example, that a late bus is beyond your control. But all three traits are invaluable to graceful aging.
- If I hadn’t taken the bus to a volunteer shift at Planned Parenthood North Central States, I wouldn’t have gained 3,000 steps on a brisk and bracing day, warmed slightly by the sunshine, when I missed my bus and had to high tail it to a different route.
- If I hadn’t walked to the bus stop for yoga on a Sunday morning in July, I wouldn’t have been able to greet a neighbor and introduce myself to another. I would have lost the chance to read an article in that morning’s Washington Post. Still, had I driven, I could have left home 30 minutes later. In a go-go society, that matters.
- If I hadn’t bussed to a business meeting where I didn’t have the option of running late, I would not have recognized the luxury of having choices. I allowed myself five minutes to get to a bus stop three blocks away: Why did my dog choose this moment to escape from the back gate? But, of course, I could always use my car if I missed the bus. Privilege means having options — and less anxiety than the young man in the back of the bus shouting into his mobile phone about how he was short on rent because he spends too much money (“meals out, shin guards”) on his girlfriend’s kids.
- If I hadn’t ridden my bike to meet a friend for coffee, I wouldn’t have discovered the private, pristine patio behind Cahoot’s Coffee Bar on a lovely autumn day. It was the safest place to park my new bike, and the barista kindly helped me get it back there.
- If I had driven to a meeting where the bus did make me late, I would have missed the 12-minute walk to the bus stop and the reminder that I used to commute to work by foot — 17 minutes each way — and need to build that exercise into my new routine of at-home contract work.
- If I hadn’t taken the Green Line train to a meeting in downtown St. Paul, I wouldn’t have figured out how to feel safe on a transit system wrestling with crime. I sat in the car closest to the conductor, looped one strap of my backpack around my arm, kept my smartphone out of sight and minded my own business.
- If I hadn’t walked to a meeting at a favorite coffee shop just far enough away to contemplate driving, I wouldn’t have snagged the metal plant stand shaped like a tricycle from a neighborhood antique store just moments before they closed.
We can’t lecture or guilt people into driving less, even though we know it helps cut greenhouse gas emissions. Sure, we can cite climate change as an existential threat, but Americans know that — we’ve been whipsawed all summer by news of drought here, torrential rains there — and still, our self-defeating practices don’t change.
I used to work for a man who left his climate-controlled house in the suburbs, got into his climate-controlled vehicle in his attached garage, drove freeways to the campus where we both were employed and parked in a climate-controlled garage beneath the student center. Once upstairs, he walked the equivalent of half a city block outside to reach his climate-controlled office. That was the extent of his engagement with the outdoors.
I don’t have enough years left on the planet to spend them encased in air-conditioned structures that separate me from what is real, and essential. I want to be out there, amid it all, with the city and Mother Nature, as unpredictable and sometimes scary as they both may be.