4 Women Shape Up

In just three months, they learned to love exercise, healthier food — and their over-40 bodies.

By Elena Rover
Elena Rover

We each sketched out a plan. In addition to meeting with Jan, Elizabeth would take two aerobics classes and do an extra training session, and she would cycle to and from Chelsea Piers, one mile each way. Marcia would walk, do weights at home, and meet with Jan when she wasn’t traveling on business. Karen promised to increase her treadmill pace, add strength training at the gym, and bump her five weekly workouts up to six. And I signed up for physical therapy twice a week for my back, yoga once a week, and at least one weekly solo strength-training or walking session.

The first results were psychological. "I feel better, and I’m able to exercise longer," Elizabeth said after just three weeks. Marcia dug her treadmill out of the basement and installed it in her bedroom. "Seeing it there morning and night, I started walking more, making excuses less," she said. Karen sweated on the cardio machines at paces she’d never before considered. "My body truly craves movement and getting stronger," she said. I had the same feeling. It was glorious to be moving again. I was sleeping better too. And we all committed ourselves to eating better. Who wants to do all that work and then blow it over dinner?

30 Days In: Getting into the Groove

After one month, I showed up at breakfast in a sports bra and shorts. "What happened to your belly?" my husband asked. I beamed. My abs, arms, thighs, and posture all looked better, my face was slimmer, and my clothes felt looser. That was fast! I hadn’t lost much weight, but I’d probably replaced some fluffy fat with muscle. My back didn’t hurt. I was trying harder yoga poses, like pigeon, and holding them longer. I hopped on my bike one day, got lost and came home two hours later — and felt fine the next day.

Elizabeth reported that she had shifted from being "the fat middle-aged woman in the back of the class" and was "reconnecting with the fit person" she once was. She felt stronger, but her pants were just as tight. Though she was burning thousands more calories a week, she’d lost just one pound. Jan suspected that Elizabeth had unknowingly increased her eating and suggested that she watch the calories of her snacks and meals. Marcia was having trouble squeezing in workouts between traveling for work and getting her son off to his new boarding school. Jan worked with her on finding ways to exercise during her commute (small seated moves she could do on the train) and at hotels (find a gym, climb the stairs, walk outside). If Marcia could find time for short sessions throughout the day — 15 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, 20 minutes after dinner — that would add up to a significant 45-minute workout by day’s end.

Karen, on the other hand, was going strong every morning at 6:30 a.m. Jan coaxed her onto an arc trainer that uses both arms and legs in a simulated hiking motion, thereby working more muscles for optimal toning and calorie burning. Karen bought an iPod and, in cardio rapture, cranked up her favorite tunes.

60 Days In: Stepping Up the Routine

Two months after we started, I’d gone down a pants size. I was keeping up with the workouts and squeezing in exercises here and there — a few squats while folding laundry, pliés as I brushed my teeth — anything to move more. (See tips from trainer Jan Griscom on page 6.) A heavier workload made it harder to carve out workout time, but I bought a bike seat so I could tote my toddler around town. And thankfully, my scheduled physical-therapy appointments were marked on the calendar. (Funny how you keep an appointment you have to pay for.) Those got me going a few times a week, so I never wandered too far off track.

Karen wasn’t happy with the scale, so Jan suggested she cut out her Weight Watchers bonus points (extra food you earn by exercising) and stick to her core diet. Elizabeth, feeling fit, was even more frustrated that she hadn’t lost another ounce. And Marcia was doing what she could. She took a longer walk to the train instead of her usual shortcut and exercised about half an hour a day on weekends.

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