Women Over Fifty Just Wanna Have Fun

I spent the weekend in Orange, Virginia, with my friend Ellen Wessel, who co-founded Moving Comfort women’s sports clothing company back in 1977, sold it to Russell Corporation, and now works at Montpelier, the home of James Madison.

The other co-founder of Moving Comfort, Elizabeth Goeke, also lives in Orange. With her partner Jay Billie, Elizabeth bought a 1910 farmhouse on 15 bucolic acres with a barn, paddocks, gardens, and woods, and they’re converting the place to a bed and breakfast, so I visit Elizabeth and Jay too, to admire their remodeling project. The Inn at Westwood Farm is opening in early September 2007, and all of us are excited about it.

Here’s what else Ellen and I are excited about: our own strength, balance, flexibility, and aerobic capacity. Maybe that sounds selfish or vain. But our bodies are not an obsession. We don’t hate our bodies, or starve them, or cover them in shame.

In fact, we celebrate them – through movement.

This morning, Ellen and I walked three miles among farms filled with scenic green roofs and serious black cows. We chatted about James Madison and retirement plans and good books we’ve read recently (March and Quarantine.) We stopped to pick up trash (Ellen’s one-woman community service project) and listen to cicadas and admire a tree frog and laugh at two “teenage” cows as they playfully trotted down a gentle hillside.

“Want to do a yoga tape?” asked Ellen when we got home.

An hour later, she asked, “Wanna do a Pilates tape?”

An hour later, after we’d contorted and stretched and lunged until we could contort and stretch and lunge no more, we rested on our purple and red “sticky mats.”

Suddenly I started laughing. It struck me as funny that, at 56 and 51, this is what Ellen and I choose to do for fun: exercise all morning. Combined, we’ve lived as athletes for about a hundred years so far, and we’ve worked for about 60 combined years in the fitness industry, so of course we know that exercise is good for us – and for other women, men, and children. Obviously.

We know that, as Moving Comfort says so brilliantly, “A fit woman is a powerful woman.”

And we dig being healthy and powerful.

But we also exercise for fun. We exercise because we feel like it. Because Ellen has a glorious neighborhood and two DVDs she wants to share. Because walking outside and doing power yoga and Pilates feel good to us – right then and also later, like now, when I’m sitting at my computer and still feeling strong and healthy and happy.

This is what Ellen and I know that many of my friends and colleagues don’t know. It’s like a secret I try to tell them but they can’t hear me, because I’m speaking another language, the language of the body. They know the “exercise is good for you” part of the message. The media (and I) have been clear about that.

It’s the “exercise is fun” part that’s so hard to convey to people who did not grow up climbing trees, who were limited to cheerleader roles in high school, who forget (though I’m certain they did know once, when they were very young) the intrinsic pleasures of effort and extension and movement through space.

When I say, “It’s fun,” they look at me with a blank stare.

The joy of movement is not something that can be communicated in words.

It’s a physical message that can only be communicated physically, as when one person takes another by the hand and says, “Let’s ______.”

“Let’s go. Let’s swim. Let’s put on our sneakers and take a long hike along a rambling country road.”

If you know what I’m talking about, know deep in your gut and your muscles and your bones that exercise is fun, then do us all a favor and spread that message to someone who does not know.

Or spread that message to someone who has forgotten – especially if that person is you.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Explore posts in the same categories: Aging, Exercise, Walking, Women

4 Comments on “Women Over Fifty Just Wanna Have Fun”

  1. Hi Mariah:

    As one who was not even a cheerleader in high school, I did not grow up with a mindset to activity. I’m a tad ashamed to say I coerced my mother to drive me the three blocks to high school on a rainy day.

    Just so you don’t think I was allergic to exercise, I was “on” the swim, basketball, track and water polo teams — I was the scorekeeper for the boys’ teams! So I was around physical activity a lot! However, mine was limited to sitting on my behind logging their scores and fouls.

    Needless to say, I am envious of your minsdet, so easily embracing a yoga — then *Pilates* video — after a 3-mile hike. I’m afraid I’d be embracing a comfy chair with a glass of water. I’d enjoy the videos with you — watching you follow along, cheerleading from the couch.

    However, something is shifting in this 52-year-old, 50-pound-overweight body and mind. After dabbling in walking, yoga, Jazzercise and biking a time or two a week for the last few years, something has kicked up a notch or two. I don’t know if it is having a new exercise partner, being diagnosed with anemia and starting to take iron supplements, knowing I’d have more success dating if I were more fit, or just wanting to look better in my clothes.

    But for the last 3 weeks I have exercised every day but one, and for 30-90 minutes, usually for an hour. My new exercise partner and I walk for 60-90 minutes several times a week. I continue to Jazzercise 1-3x/week, as well as doing my errands on my bike. I’ve begun to venture out and the other day went on a 4-mile ride, something that sounds trivial, but for me was a big stretch.

    I’m beginning to notice what I enjoy about each exercise (gasp — I can actually *enjoy* exercise?). With biking, I like that I don’t feel hot until I stop. I make my own cooling wind. And I like how quickly I can get up speed — zoom, zoom — all with just the power of my legs.

    Jazzersize is fun largely because of my instructor. A charming 6’4″ dreadlocked man with a giant smile and silly humor, who loves dancing to the routines and imparts that joy to us. He adds his own baritone voice in harmony to the songs played. While I’m sweating, I’m also smiling, not so much that it feels good, but that he is entertaining.

    The walking doesn’t seem like exercise at all since Kristie and I talk the whole time and I barely notice my aching feet/knees til we part! And yes, I am going to get some new shoes and stretch beforehand to see if that reduces my aches.

    I can’t say that I feel better physically yet, although my legs feel stronger and more toned. My shorts fit looser, and I think I’m getting a little more stamina. I’ve only just began taking iron, so perhaps that’s why I haven’t noticed what many people report with exercise, “I have more energy.” Not yet, but we’ll see if the combo iron and exercise make a difference.

    Rebecca Morgan
    blog: http://www.GrowYourKeyTalent.com

  2. samhorn Says:


    You write like a dream.

    Even more importantly, you role model your message.

    Albert Schweitzer said, “In influencing others, example is not the main thing; it’s the only thing.”

    We all benefit from your shining example of honoring our body through joyful physical activity that is a blessing, not an onerous obligation.

    Enough said. I’m headed out for a walk around the lake to take advantage of this sunny summer day.

    Please keep these insightful, enjoyable blog posts coming. They’re an inspiration.

    Sam Horn

  3. Hey Rebecca,

    YOU GO GIRL! Interesting that “enjoying” exercise seems like such a novel concept. Phrases such as “sweat equity” and “don’t sweat it” probably don’t help any. Apparently many people get the impression that exercise is drudgery.

    Yet to be honest, it’s not fair to expect bliss with each revolution of the bicycle wheel either. I love to write, too, and it’s not relentlessly fun-fun-fun either.

    Enjoying exercise – perhaps like enjoying a friendly or loving relationship – is a complex process involving many levels of “enjoyment,” including (at times, really!) from sheer physical ecstasy and also myriad other gradations of joy – such as that simple sensation of moving oneself through space, as you mentioned, and personal pride in one’s posture, and the excitement of trying something new, and the thrill of accomplishment, and the deep satisfaction that comes from experiencing integration of body and mind: you’re doing what your body wants you to do, which is itself a form of joy. You could name others (look for them!) and report back.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the journey!

  4. Hey Sam,

    Your entry brings to mind an allegedly old Native American song I once learned during an adventurous backpacking summer: “I walk in beauty.” Other lyrics I remember:

    I walk in beauty, yes I do, yes I do
    I talk in beauty, yes I do, yes I do
    I live for beauty, just for you and only you
    Hey ya, hey ya hey yo.

    To walk in nature is to walk in beauty. To walk in beauty is to make a commitment to one’s own health and happiness.

    Thanks for writing. Please come back and report on other beautiful experiences.

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