I have always enjoyed people watching. I enjoy sitting in a crowded public space where people move busily about their day. I will often try to interpret their movements and actions creating a story that plausibly connects to where they are going and what they are doing. The only slightly frustrating part is never having an opportunity to confirm the tale that I have weaved in my imagination.
I have found a new venue for people watching. The gym. Since Eileen and I have been on the road we have tried to find a good gym whenever we spend more than a week at a time in one place. Being full-time RVers provides several other less formal ways to find exercise while on the road. We walk quite often in the RV park and have found lots of interesting and beautiful places to hike as well. I try to get out to the golf course as often as possible or ride my bike. Despite the informal exercise we like to have a place to do a more formal workout that includes some weight-training as well.
In our most recent stop in North Myrtle Beach we joined the North Myrtle Beach Aquatic and Fitness Center. It is a beautiful and reasonably new city-operated facility that has two pools, racquet ball courts, two gyms, a walking/ running balcony and a very large fitness center.
Gyms or fitness centers are seeing a slight transition as we baby-boomers try to extend our lives. A recent study put the point of middle-age at sixty. Middle age is now sixty? That is a scary number for a variety of reasons. If that many people are living into their eighties and nineties, it means that there will be millions of people trying to fill their days with meaningful activity to defend against boredom and atrophy.
Many of those people are at the gym. According to the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the average age of those regularly using the gym has exceeded forty years of age. The study indicates that those who are seventy-two years old or older frequent the gym 7.5 – 8.0 times per month as opposed to those in the twenty-thirty-five age group who frequent the gym less than 6.5 times per month. Based on eye-witness account the older group frequents the gym much more often and the younger group seems to be far outnumbered.
Granted my personal observation may be a bit skewed. These days we tend to land in places where the old folks (including us) tend to migrate for the winter. That would certainly increase the opportunity for the median age to be much higher.
The increase in older folks using the gym is also a factor of insurance companies recognizing that, the more healthy people are as they age, the less need there they may be for very expensive medical costs for chronic disease and medical efforts to extend life. The offer programs like Silver Sneakers to get people out to the gym and a more active lifestyle.
Eileen and I frequent the gym five to six days per week. Not every day is a strenuous workout. Some days are just dedicated to some light cardio and stretching – lots of stretching. Whatever the schedule of activity, the opportunity to people watch is readily available.
There are all different types of workout warriors frequenting the gym on any given day. One can only guess what the objective is for that day. Whatever the objective, getting yourself out of the house, or RV in our case, and making your way to the gym is a victory. Given the statistics of how many people pay for gym memberships that go largely unused, if these people are using the gym, they are one step ahead of the crowd.
It is fun to watch the different approaches to the gym as you sit on the bike or pump the elliptical. They fall into a variety of categories.
There are the real gym warriors. These people are serious about a high-intensity workout each day. Many are at least in the sixties. They tend to push hard on the treadmill often at a running pace. They may also hit the free weights pumping serious iron. Many are equipped for the experience with weight belts and lifting gloves. The also tend to be efficient with little chatter or conversation. They are focused on results.
At the other end of the spectrum are the cell phone athletes. These are the individuals who walk leisurely on the treadmill while holding their cell phone in their hand checking their emails or surfing Facebook. They also tend to sit at a machine reading their phones taking as much as fifteen to twenty minutes to get through three sets of reps.
Despite the frequent and obvious reminders about gym rules and etiquette people are either wipers or not. And there are varying degrees of wipers. Some people simply sit at the machine or bike, do their thing, and walk away leaving their bio waste for the next person. Some wipe the machine before use and after use. Some are trusting souls and only wipe it down after use. I tend to be more trustful (lazy) wiping it down after use and Eileen tends to clean before and after.
One guy that I have observed more than a few times spends a considerable amount of time cleaning the machine beforehand often more than the amount of time he spends on the machine. He cleans parts of the machine that are probably better left to the maintenance contract the gym probably has on the machine. I have wondered if the extended amount of time spent cleaning is a strategy to avoid using the machine.
There are a few, thankfully not many, who use the towel strategy to avoid wiping the machine. They lay their towel – their sweaty towel – on the bench and consider that as having saved us and them from sharing bodily juices. When I see this, I am tempted to find the over-cleaning guy and set him to work on that machine.
For some the gym is more a social experience than a place to work out. The same people find each other, sometimes in mid-exercise and engage in lengthy conversation. They often stand in front of the treadmill or bike, leaning on the front, busy in conversation with the walker or rider. Sometimes you might find two to three people standing in front engaging a walker.
In my mind, I have tabbed one interesting character as The Mayor. He is present on most days that we go to the center. He is a tall guy who I am guessing is in his seventies. I have never witnessed him on any other apparatus but the treadmill where he takes a leisurely walk of some length. Both before he begins and after he is done the mayor walks about the facility engaging in conversation with several people at their stations. They seem more than happy to interrupt their activity to engage him. While he is using the treadmill, he entertains several people who stop by his station to chat.
The only time when the market place activity is somewhat bothersome is when a gathering happens near a machine you are using sometimes placing you in the precarious position of trying to work with a person literally inches from your face, or when you are trying to get to a particular machine and the user is talking while sitting on it.
I have observed one person who does his leisurely workout while drinking his Starbucks coffee and clearly more interested in what the person next to him is doing then in what he is doing. I have a real hard time imagining using a sit-up machine while ingesting coffee of any kind, never mind Starbucks. I would not last long under those conditions.
The individuals who are somewhat inspiring are those who enter the gym with canes or other assistive apparatus and slowly but steadily make their way to some kind of machine. Many are clearly in their eighties or older but still make their way to the gym to get a little activity. I would like to make it to eighty, let alone go the gym when I am eighty.
Eileen and I will continue to find gyms wherever we settle for any length of time and find other ways to get our exercise when the gym is not available. Either way we will try to improve our health so that we can enjoy watching our grandchildren grow and experience new things. All in all, I would still like the gym for a more rigorous workout and an opportunity to engage in the fun past-time of people-watching as well.