Can joining a gym make you happier?

The jury’s still out, but I’m going to give it a shot.

by

So I decided to beat the New Year’s resolution rush and join a gym a couple of weeks ago. After several months spent mostly on the road for work, staying in hotels in wildly different time zones and desperately beckoning sleep through any form of exercise I could find, I developed a taste for swimming. It’s not entirely new, to be honest; I spent many childhood years doing cannonballs into the deep end of our family pool. But my parents’ shared penchant for those long, graceful strokes – particularly at the end of a long work day – appears to have finally rubbed off on me.

There is much talk – when it comes to getting active to improve your sleep and mental clarity and general health – about finding the right exercise for you. The trick for me, I think, is to conceive of this as right for me right now. I’m not committing to swimming a few times a week, every week, for the rest of my life. But just as I love doing yoga on a four-year-old mat on the floor of my little apartment, I truly love to go swimming. I love the warm saltwater pool at my new gym, which makes me feel revived instead of covered in chemicals. I love the seniors bobbing with styrofoam noodles in the shallow end, occasionally requiring me to slam the breaks on my stroke, but always beaming (as so many of us do, pleased as punch that we’re actually there, doing something good for us). I love the mixture and exhaustion and invigoration I feel as I step out of the pool, and the calmness and cleanness I feel after a nice, long steam.

Joining a gym has always seemed a little risky to me. What if I don’t like it and I’m stuck with the bill? What if I unwittingly sign up to the place where an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend do deep squats in tandem? I’m generally reluctant to set myself up for defeat. So what’s different this time? Really, I don’t know what’s different beyond a greater willingness to try and a greater appetite for exercise. There’s no guarantee that this is a wise investment, or that I’m still going to want to strip off my clothes and jump in the pool when the worst weather hits in February, but – right now – going for a swim and a steam a few times a week really does make me feel happier and more satisfied and more grownup, knowing that I’m taking care of myself (in between burritos and Manhattans). And I guess that more than anything else, my New Year’s resolution is to just try even more of anything and everything that puts me on a path that feels like progress.