Get Moving, Get Happy!

Perhaps it's just something about getting your blood flowing freely, but there's nothing like moving around and, whisper it softly, exercising just a little bit, to make you feel more on top of the world. Before you groan, this is not another list of instructions about getting sweaty and out of breath being good for you. Firstly, I'm realist. Secondly, I'm a bit on the lazy side. And thirdly, I'm a very recent convert to the benefits of any kind of physical exertion. 

Actually, the last two are not entirely true, even the less enthusiastic amongst us know that we feel better after a good stroll. And I'm no more lazy than the next person. But, thanks to several years of undiagnosed asthma, I'd begun to find any kind of heavy exercise uncomfortable, and so, unappealing. I just got out of the habit. Not until I finally got proper medical treatment for my errant lungs did I realise that, not only was I not as unfit as I had previously thought, but  that I actually rather enjoyed the freedom that fully-functioning, albeit medically-assisted, lungs could give me. And I determined that, since medication had done half the job for me, I might as well have a go at doing the rest myself.

Now, I'm not pretending that all this 'working-out' came naturally to me. I've tried aerobics in the past. Got really 'into' it for a few weeks but soon grew tired. It's just not that much fun. I don't have the padding in my joints I had when I was 16, so the idea of jogging anywhere just doesn't appeal. Besides which, when your lungs, and allergies, flare up at the first sign of pollution/pollen/windy weather running through the streets breathing more and more of it into your body isn't really a great idea. And, to begin with, I found walking, further and faster than before, worked just fine.  But eventually I wanted to try something a bit more fun. And preferably indoors, since I could control the air conditions much better and not have the weather dictate my level of activity. 

Idly, to be honest, I would watch those 'infomercials' on satellite telly and wonder whether they would work for me. Whether this machine, or that device would do the trick. But, when I thought about it, they all seemed so dull. The problem with exercise is that, if you don't enjoy it in the first place, you're never going to keep at it long enough for it to make a difference. And marching up and down, or swinging side to side didn't really appeal.

What did attract my attention was those dance-based workouts. Now, I know I'll always be more Banarama than Beyonce when it comes to any kind of dancing, but the idea that I could at least pretend I was up to the job, groove along in the privacy of my own home, with no-one but the cats to witness my shameful lack of co-ordination? They certainly caught my eye. And when I saw the ad for Zumba – a Latin-based dance workout – I was almost hooked. I say 'almost' because the sight of all those amazingly toned, and tanned, bodies, their abs perfectly honed, not a hair out of place, did worry me. The last time I caught sight of myself dancing there was a good deal more jiggle than wiggle and by the end of the night I looked like I'd spent it crawling through a hedge. Then again, everyone else in the room looked the same and no sensible marketing company is going to use anyone but the gorgeous, buff and beautiful bodies of the professional sporty-type to advertise its wares. There's a reason they don't use flabby, chubby, pasty-white tummies. But I bet they all started out that way. Well, one or two of them at least. And I'd seen signs for classes all over the place, from the tiniest villages halls to the swishest gyms. While there was no way I was about to stand up in front of complete strangers and make an ass of myself, I did yearn to try it.

But I was still reluctant. It looked like very hard work. And there's nothing more dispiriting than the realisation of just how much work you have to do even to catch up with the rest of humanity. And it looked complicated.  I'm no dancer. A child in the 1970s, a teen in the 1980s, my idea of "dancing" is stepping from side to side semi-rhythmically. I might have avidly watched "Fame" on telly, spent PE lessons in leg warmers and leotards, but that was a long time ago. I mean, I've always wished I could dance like Ginger Rogers, and years of watching "Strictly" had shown me that, sometimes, the most unlikely people turn out to have a natural flair for dance. And the informercials did promise to make everything very easy by "breaking down the moves" into simple steps that "anyone" could follow. 

But I've encountered that sort of "one size fits all" optimism before. And I'm usually left disappointed. So, for months actually, I debated it with myself. Assuming I did shell out the money, would I get enough out of it? Or would the DVDs sit on the shelf alongside the other discarded "seemed like a good idea at the time" exercise plans I'd purchased? And, worst of all, what if I was really bad at it? Did I really want to find out I had no sense of musicality whatsoever? 

When good old QVC UK, and their fabulous 30-day money back guarantee, began selling a DVD pack  I decided I had little to lose. After all, I could try it for a couple of weeks and, if I really didn't get along with it, I could send it back. No harm done, no shame in that.

And, you know what? It was fun. And it was easy to follow the routines. They took a while to master, but I got better every time. And I learned the most important thing about Zumba. That you don't have to do it perfectly. In fact, in the words of one of their "star instructors", Tanya Beardsley "perfection is an illusion, imperfection is beautiful". Because it's all about moving to the music. Yes, there is choreography to follow. Yes, it challenges your brain at first. And yes, you want to be looking as good as the folks on screen. But it doesn't matter that you don't. And, as Tanya says "some movement is better than no movement at all"! The thing is, every individual on that screen does the moves slightly differently. You're not formation dancing, you're having fun and dancing in your own style.

Did it make a difference? Oh, you  bet it did! The music is very uplifting and it wasn't long before I felt stronger and fitter. And eventually I could feel, and see, changes in my body. Nothing spectacular and I've a long way to go, but I felt more toned. Smaller clothes have had to be bought, inches have disappeared from my hips, thighs and waist. Bingo wings are retreating and  have shoulders. I mean I always had shoulders, obviously, but now they look pretty! I started back in early June with the intention of a couple of workouts a week. I'm now doing Zumba five times a week and I can't imagine ever not doing it. If I have to miss a routine because I'm away, or I'm sick, or I'm having a really bad asthma day, I miss it. Me missing taking exercise? There must be something magical there! 

But the funny thing is, for me, it's not really the being fitter that's been the most significant change. Nor is it the whittled waist and toned shoulders. It's the rush I feel after I've Zumba'ed. After my legs and arms and core have moved around to the Latin beat. They say it's to do with the whole-body workout releasing endorphins (hormones that give you a natural buzz). But it's also the confidence I now feel in my own body and in how it moves. I'll make no claim to be a terrific "mover" but I can salsa, and samba, flamenco and belly dance away to my heart's content. And there's something incredibly liberating about circling your booty, even in the privacy of your own home. The thing is, Zumba is fun. Even though you'll, not to put too fine a point on it, sweat buckets and burn lots of calories, you'll hardly realise you've been working out.  Yes, you know you're out of breath, or that your muscles are tired, but all you're really doing is dancing. And just about everyone likes doing that. 

Zumba may not be for you, but you could give it a try. Miracles do happen!