No lycra, no mirrors and no posters of skinny celebrities. No thumping pop music and definitely no men! Doesn’t sound much like a gym, does it?
I’ve mentioned the gym where I am a member a couple of times so I thought I’d tell you a bit more about it. Aimed at women over the age of forty, it’s far from being a conventional gym. If it was, there is no way I would ever have joined for I am so far from being the kind of woman who joins gyms, you wouldn’t believe! No wonder I chose one called Gymophobics! Joining was one of those sudden whims that I occasionally act upon without thought, which ultimately changes my life.
Earlier generations of women rarely had professional careers so retirement brought few significant changes. Today, those women can experience considerable difficulties in adjusting to the isolation felt following retirement from an absorbing career and loss of confidence brought about by the ageing process in a youth obsessed world. Men have always dealt with this but, according to studies, women are particularly affected by the loss of social interaction at work since they thrive on connecting with others in a similar situation. The women-only Gymophobics is providing support and friendship alongside getting fit.
Winners of several regional and national awards, my local branch of Gymophobics was awarded Women’s gym of the Year in 2013 by the prestigious Fitness Industry Association. Comfortable sofas, bookcases full of popular fiction and complementary refreshments create a relaxed societal meeting place where women feel totally comfortable, and with no requirement for special kit or trainers (all exercise is low-impact), this is as much a social club as a gym – and thereby hangs its great success.
There are other women-only gyms but only Gymophobics offer individually tailored exercise programmes suited to their members’ fitness levels and age with members receiving personal attention on every visit. Whilst many gyms are cutting costs to counteract dwindling membership, here we pay a little more and retention is high as staff concentrate on building relationships with members. Prescribed physiotherapy exercises can be incorporated into members’ 30 minute programmes so dodgy hips and knees, the bane of late middle age, are well catered for! Only last year both my GP and physiotherapist (one of those dodgy hips is mine) commented that I was very flexible! The unique exercise programme (first to be awarded a UK trademark) combines cardiovascular, isotonic and isometric exercises designed to provide a full body workout and using air resistance instead of weights is gentler on both muscles and bones. Also on offer are exercise classes and dietary advice.
Although we have members up to 80 years old, our core membership is the 50-70 age group, many of whom are retired professionals. Understanding the well documented physical benefits of exercise, we also place enormous value on the support and friendship received from staff and each other. Gymophobics is a great leveller; it doesn’t matter what job you did, at the gym everyone is the same as they cope with the mixed emotions that retirement brings. Whilst women look forward to retirement, for many the reality is that they miss their colleagues, the intellectual stimulation of busy jobs and the buzz of personal achievement.
Holders of the FIA’s award for community involvement, we are enthusiastic charity fundraisers, amassing almost £100,000 in the past few years. The gyms key charity is Cancer Research, but many of us fundraise for other causes too. I have personally raised over £650 (shared between Crohns & Colitis UK and Cancer Research) in two and a half years by selling hand-made cards. Our most successful fundraising activity is the annual 24 hour marathon exercise relay, but seeking to do something different a couple of years ago, and inspired by the famous Women’s Institute ‘Calendar Girls’, a group of members stripped off to produce their own version and were justifiably proud to have raised in excess of £1,500. To minimise costs, a member who is a photographer, donated her services for the photo shoot and one of the instructors produced the artwork. In case you’re wondering – NO! I was too much of a coward. Instead I volunteered as ‘Artistic Director’ for the December photograph. In June we have a quiz evening to look forward to and a mock Ascot Ladies Day event.
We are not women who don’t want to be with their husbands and families but we all recognise in ourselves an essential need for intellectual stimulation with other like-minded women. Meeting up with friends generally involves forward planning but the great thing about Gymophobics is that individual members can drop in at any time, day or evening, seven days a week and there will always be someone to chat to.
If a woman approaching retirement does not already have a support network in place, this can lead to feelings of isolation which, unaddressed, may lead to depression. No-one is suggesting that joining a gym will cure depression, but we know that exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemical. Combine this with the very real support and friendship (and the cups of coffee) available on a daily basis at Gymophobics and it’s an undoubted recipe for success.
If you’d like to know more or see whether there is one of the fabulous facilities in your area, here are the website details: https://www.gymophobics.co.uk/view/the-circuit