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The Road To Wellness

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One step inside

the studio, where music was pounding and smiling women were almost dancing, convinced me that I had finally found my place in the fitness world.

by Karen E. Culp

After about three years, I am still on the road to wellness, despite some side trips down French Fry Lane.

Three years ago this month, I walked into Jazzercise and asked for a class schedule. I had heard of the aerobics program, and knew I liked aerobics, but didn't know if I would commit to attending the classes.

One step inside the studio, where music was pounding and smiling women were almost dancing, convinced me that I had finally found my place in the fitness world.

It wasn't easy. In college, I fell in with the wrong crowd: you know, the ones who would rather eat Fettucine Alfredo and argue about politics on a Saturday night than go to a basketball game or go for a run.

They were the ones who stayed in the school's dining hall longer than anyone else, partially because they were working to convince one member of the group that "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was not at all about love, and partially because it just took that long to eat a sample of everything that was being served.

I didn't always belong to that group; I was seduced into their unhealthy habits around my sophomore year, when health problems led me to quit the college's cheerleading squad. I abandoned the "vacuous vomiting twits," as one of my bluestocking compatriots called my peppy partners, and fell in with the 3.8-grade-point-average-and-above group.

I stayed with them through my senior year, and by that time, I no longer had any excuse whatsoever to shake my booty. At one time, dancing had been my favorite activity, and aerobic dance classes were a close second.

During my sis-boom-bah days I even enjoyed lifting weights, and had visible arm and leg muscles all over my 115-pound body. Pasta and the sedentary life of an aspiring scholar had made mush of my arms and legs, and my stomach was the dough ball it had been prior to my rah-rah years. Needless to say, I was also a long, hard way from 115 pounds.

Though my academic friends spent little time worrying about body shape and size, and even less about their appearance, the cheerleaders were consumed with the same. Neither example was a healthy one.

Cheerleaders don't have the world's best health habits, on the whole, but they are active. My fellow pomponners spent most of their time avoiding food, which is not a good idea for anyone, but was sometimes inevitable for members of the squad.

Though we did not have the infamous weight limits that have been the subject of much debate in recent years, we were forced to weigh in at various times during the season, and if your weight jumped by more than three pounds at any given time, you were placed on a very restrictive diet (I never had to go on it, but I heard that your daily calorie intake was limited to 700) until the pounds came off.

The restrictive eating habits our coaches tried to inspire in us were too harsh, but the overindulgence I fell into may have been even worse for me. Once I left cheerleading and began to concentrate on academics, I discovered a dangerous kind of food freedom.

Freed from the prospect of being seen in public in a halter top and skirt that skimmed my butt, I found a food for each test, paper or presentation I prepared for.

For example, I began to use Cheezits for British literature papers, and Lay's potato chips for American lit. My fellow hard thinkers joined me in these night-before binges.

One of my companions was very fond of Chicken in a Biscuit crackers, which she sprayed with Cheez Whiz. The unmistakable smell of that preservative-laden combination always led me to conclude that my friend had a test coming up.

My major adviser's recommendation, when helping me prepare for the GRE, was to "eat a good meal the night before, and have some cheesecake." I'm not saying all brains are gluttons, but I really thought (and still do, from time to time) that food helps me think, and I know my college buddies during those latter days agreed.

By the time I became a full-time graduate student, I found it impossible to study without eating, and since studying was really my job, I ate all the time. By this time, I did not exercise at all. Walking bored me, gyms intimidated me, and, well, I didn't have any reason to cheer anymore.

Salvation almost came in the form of a former cross-country runner who was in grad school with me, but running did not appeal to me, and nothing else appealed to her. I wanted to find something that took me back to that feeling I had when I was tumbling across a gym floor or swinging my hips and arms around to "Wild Thing." Jazzercise took me back to that feeling.

When I'm in a Jazzercise class, I'm not an old married woman with a mountain of bills, far removed from the days when it was OK for me to bounce and dance around in front of a crowd of people. I am, essentially, a cheerleader again. Jazzercise also appeals to the academic in me, because you attend classes that are very structured; you know what to expect, and you are forced to think occasionally.

Jazzercise saved me from self-destructive eating habits and taught me how to work out without feeling as though I'm taking medicine.

I can walk into class on any day and forget the flub-ups at work, the funny noise my car is making, and the filthy mess that is my happy home most days. The exercise takes the edge off my stress, and therefore off my personality. It has also helped me redevelop the muscle I was once so proud of and has just plain made me stronger.

Most of all, though, it's just fun. When I'm in a class, I find it impossible to think about work, my messy house or anything else that's nagging me. All I'm worried about is dancing to the music.

And the music is pretty cool, too. It keeps me hip. I can proudly boast, when talking to a young person, that I Jazzercise to that happenin' "Walking on the Sun" song. I can identify most songs that they play on the hot radio stations and can show you the corresponding step from Jazzercise class.

If I didn't Jazzercise, I would probably waste a lot of money on fitness programs I wouldn't stick with, and continue to eat myself into oblivion. When I know I'm going to class, or when I've just come from class, I tend to avoid junk food.

As one of my Jazzercise instructors once said, the thought is, "I worked too hard in class today; I'm not going to eat that!"

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