Nothing makes you stronger than exercise with friends

As we grow older, we come to realize the value of true friendships. We find ways to surround ourselves with people who matter and spend less time worrying about what doesn’t matter.

Members of the Twelve Days of Fitness group pose on a hike. Setting goals with friends is a good way to ensure your good intentions become achievable.

As we grow older, we come to realize the value of true friendships. We find ways to surround ourselves with people who matter and spend less time worrying about what doesn’t matter.

Perhaps this realization was the impetus for the birth of an idea that my group of friends now refer to as The Twelve Days of Fitness.

The idea formed six years ago when discussing our hectic Christmas schedules. Parties, entertaining, shopping and preparing for the season, along with our already busy lives, left us exhausted.

What was supposed to be a time of peace, love, joy and celebration felt more like seasonal insanity. By the time Christmas arrived, we were all a little cynical and a lot out of shape.

The song The Twelve Days of Christmas became our theme song for change. We simply changed the word “Christmas” to “fitness” and we had our plan. It went something like this,

“On the first day of fitness my true love gave to me:

One game of volleyball,

Two yoga poses,

Three badminton matches,

Four rounds of golf,

Five sets of tennis,

Six gals a gliding,

Seven swimmers swimming,

Eight joggers jogging,

Nine weights a lifting,

Ten gals a biking,

Eleven ladies leaping,

Twelve friends out walking,

And a weekend trip to Banff.”

Our coping strategy was to take winter and Christmas on by taking part in 12 fitness activities.

Initially we tried to cram all 12 activities into the month of December, but it has evolved into getting together for fitness one time a week for the 12 weeks preceding Christmas. This means we begin before Thanksgiving, meeting on Sunday mornings, for whatever activity has been chosen.

I should mention that most of the women in this friendship group are jocks. Some would call us “old jocks,” but we prefer the term “masters.”

Many of us have participated on competitive teams including soccer, volleyball, basketball, football, hockey and curling. Several of us also run, cycle, swim, play tennis, lift weights and golf. A number of us have backgrounds in physical education so coming up with a list of activities wasn’t hard to do.

So, for six years our group has met 12 times before Christmas for a variety of fitness challenges.

We have played golf, tennis, volleyball, lifted weights and cycled. We have cross-country skied, snowshoed, skated, swum and played badminton. We attempted yoga poses and kicked and punched our way through tae bo. Whatever was suggested was attempted.

But more than anything, our group has walked. We’ve walked around indoor tracks, outdoor trails, around lakes and through city neighbourhoods. During all of these activities and especially when we have walked, we have talked.

Einstein once said: “Nothing happens until something moves.” How true.

We have discussed many things and shared many celebrations along the way. We have supported each other through difficult times and trials in our lives. We have celebrated birthdays and have collectively agreed that even though we mourn the loss of our 20s and 30s, we’re all doing pretty well in our 40s and 50s.

Most of us feel more comfortable in our skin now than we did in our 20s. We are able to laugh at our imperfections and more accepting of each other’s differences.

We have discussed our families and especially our children. We keep track of each other’s kids and provide moral support and advice when things don’t go as planned.

We have discussed aging parents and how to best care for them. We remind ourselves that someday we will be discussed in the same way by our children.

We have walked and talked about marriages, relationships (good and bad) and supported one another through breakups and turbulent times. We have shared the sadness of losing a parent.

We have talked about new experiences, retirement plans, empty nests, losing or gaining 10 pounds, holidays in hot places and how busy life can be.

We have shared recipes and argued politics. We have learned about psychics, and compared chiropractors to physiotherapists and medical doctors to homeopaths.

We trade books and provide critiques. Whether five or 15 women show up for our weekly activity, we don’t run out of conversation. We certainly never run out of laughter.

Our Twelve Days of Fitness culminates with an overnight trip to Banff. Some go skiing while others go shopping, arguing that shopping counts as a fitness activity. It is a wonderful way to celebrate our 12 days of fitness; surrounded by the most beautiful mountains in the world.

Each year on the drive home from Banff, I remind myself how fortunate I am. I am surrounded by good friends and we have coped with Alberta’s cold winter days by taking part in all the time of year has to offer.

True, our abs may hurt more from belly laughs than situps, but I have come to realize that the fitness component in our 12 days is secondary.

The enduring friendship we have formed is the true gift. What a gift it has been.

Mona Knudslien is a recently-retired Red Deer teacher and school administrator.

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