How to Shape Up Your Body (When You're No Longer a Kid)

Joyce Maynard wanted to look great before she got married, went on a book tour, walked the red carpet—and turned 60. But even better than the inches she lost was the perspective she gained after six months of working out intensely

by Joyce Maynard
Joyce Maynard and Jim Barringer, shortly after their wedding
Photograph: Courtesy of William Lurcott

I flew east for my wedding, to my home state of New Hampshire. It was a perfect summer day. Of course, my friends told me I looked great (how could they not?). More noteworthy was the four-day hike in the White Mountains that Jim and I undertook for our honeymoon. We climbed five of the Presidential Peaks—the toughest physical endeavor of my life, second to childbirth. At the end of those days my muscles felt sore, but my knees, thanks to my workouts, had not given out on me as they would have six months earlier. Equally important: While six months before I would have been gasping for breath climbing those peaks, I could carry on a conversation with Jim as we made our way up the mountain. My cardio fitness had drastically improved.

The hike was followed by more time away from the gym: a book tour and a visit to the coast of Maine. Good meals, no workouts. I never took out the foam roller I’d placed in the trunk of our car. So it was hard getting back to the gym at the end of our travels. I could tell that after four weeks away, I wasn’t as strong as I’d been when I’d left. But there was good news, too: Whereas only a few months earlier I’d allowed my brain to flirt with the idea of missing a workout, I realized I was now craving one. Walking into the gym for the first time after the wedding felt like coming home.

And that’s a good thing. I now understand that at 25 and 35 (and maybe even 40 if great genes are part of the mix), a woman may manage to look and feel good with surprisingly little effort, but at 59 it takes a lot more. I know that if I want to stay fit, I need to remain active every day of my life. I can no more expect to stay in great condition without working hard than I can reach the far end of a pool without swimming.

This is bad news only if you view exercising as a chore. There have certainly been times when I felt that way, and at times I still do. That’s when I make myself focus not on how I feel working out but on how I feel walking out. I may be sore, but I’m always happy.

I had set myself the goal of recapturing something of my youth for various events. But of course the real event we show up for is life. That one’s ongoing, for a while anyway. A long while, I hope.

The other day I turned 60. Around the same time, Jim and I flew off to a film festival that was screening the movie adaptation of my novel. My dress for this event was sleeveless and formfitting. In front of the theater, the two of us walked the red carpet while cameras recorded our every step. The photographers were really waiting for the stars, but they apparently thought I was somebody, and to oblige them, I waved. Betty did, too, but only a little.

I can live with that, as a gentle reminder that nobody’s perfect, at least without the benefit of Photoshop.  

JOYCE MAYNARD’s most recent novel is After Her. The film Labor Day is based on her 2009 novel of the same name.

Next: Who the Heck is That Face in the Mirror?

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First published in the March 2014 issue

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