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Exercise is a life stage, at any stage

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Years ago, when I was an A student in college, I almost flunked gym class because I exceeded the number of allowed class cuts. I always detested exercise of any kind except tennis, which I mostly liked because my high school boyfriend was a champion tennis player. I continued to play tennis on and off through college, even after breaking up with the boyfriend. I played occasionally after I married and had three small children very close together.

At some point, I just stopped.

When my children were small, I spent my days as an increasingly frustrated stay-at-home parent. When the youngest child was 3, I returned to school — and at about the same time I decided I needed to get in shape. I began a running regimen around the neighborhood. Running time allowed me space to think.

After earning my graduate degree and returning to teaching, I continued to run. I became more serious about it, even purchasing a pulse meter to assure that my heart rate reached the max each time.

Now I am in my 60s. These days, I mostly walk as fast as I can for 30 minutes three times a week — no need for a pulse meter! People much older than I frequently run by me, and I feel envious that I cannot run with them. But running irritates my arthritic knee as well as my intermittent plantar fasciitis.

I need planning and discipline to continue my exercising. I would much rather read The Times or my latest book, especially when it is raining. I usually fast-walk in the morning because then I can forget about it for the day. When I leave it until later, it looms as more and more of a chore.

I also take an Iyengar yoga class each Wednesday morning — and pay for it in advance to minimize my non-attendance. As Woody Allen said, "Seventy percent of success … is showing up." Last week my knee was achy, so I avoided some of the standing poses. The previous week I had to be careful of my elbow and avoid putting too much weight on it. I figure as long as my aches and pains keep moving around, I am OK.

I continue to exercise because I believe the old adage "use it or lose it" is true. A couple of years ago I had back surgery to remove a painful spinal cyst. The weeks of not walking or stretching before the surgery and after showed me how quickly muscles can deteriorate. Following my surgery, I felt exhausted after a fairly slow walk. It took me a couple of months to return to my usual energy level.

My mother stayed in fairly good shape until my father became ill and they no longer were able to go on long walks around the neighborhood together. After he died, she had a difficult time being motivated to do anything. My sisters and I tried to persuade her that walking would be good for her, but all she could manage was an occasional chair exercise class at her assisted-living center. Her muscles continued to weaken, and eventually we had to buy one of those horrible chairs that propel people to a standing position when they can no longer manage this by themselves. What a depressing thought. And what a good motivator for me.

I keep exercising because I love walking around the Lafayette Reservoir with my husband and dog. The almost 5-mile hike, offering gorgeous views of woods and wildlife, involves many hills. I would be unable to keep pace with them both unless I fast-walked in between times.

As I grow older, I notice how people age at different rates. Some people look old at 60 while others seem vigorous in their 80s. Exercise affects the way people move, whether slowly and stiffly or quickly and flexibly. To me, the way people move — rather than how many wrinkles they have — is an indicator of vitality.

As long as I can, I hope to continue my fitness routine, fighting against the inevitability of time and aging.

Montali lives in Berkeley. She recently returned to writing personal essays and short stories. She has a degree in English and a masters in education and taught for several years before becoming a real estate agent in Berkeley. She is retired from real estate.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can't respond to every writer.

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