Getting in shape can be life-changing

There aren't too many things in the world that are typically considered life-changing. Marriage. Kids. The death of a loved one. A handful of pivotal books.

For me (at least for the purposes of this column), one of them was the gym.

I will start by saying that I was never a huge fitness nut, and I don't really consider myself one now.

I didn't make the kind of physical change they show in weight-loss ads, with a "before" picture of a very obese, unhappy-looking person and an "after" picture with the same person proudly pulling her five-sizes-too-big pants away from her new waistline.

I also didn't get into the fitness thing to look better.

I've been overweight for most of my life and I never cared much about how it made me look.

While other girls were apparently getting body image disorders from fashion magazines, I would shrug my shoulders at the super-thin models and go on my merry way.

I played sports throughout high school and tried my hand at running during college, but it never seemed to make that big of a difference.

But a couple of years ago, I had some health issues, and decided to get really serious about being healthier and in better shape.

(A big part of this decision had to do with the fact that I'm kind of anti-authoritarian and I wanted to show the doctor — who said I would have to take medicine, and that my health problems would still be there regardless of how much weight I lost — that she was full of it.)

So, I started going to fitness classes at the gym, which was definitely hard at first after having a fairly sedentary lifestyle.

Most people who attend fitness classes usually have one, or at most two, that they absolutely love.

I have a friend who swears by Zumba. For the uninitiated, Zumba is a Latin dance-type class that reminds me a little of "Dance Dance Revolution," in the sense that I am equally uncoordinated at following the "dance" steps in both.

Anyway, I am not a Zumba person. What I really like is BodyPump, a weightlifting class that uses a barbell and is choreographed to music.

BodyPump is part of Les Mills International, a fitness company from New Zealand that churns out these kinds of high-impact, highly choreographed classes, some of which have funny names.

(My favorite Les Mills class name is Sh'Bam. I think I'd be even more embarrassed pronouncing that than "Zumba.")

The first time I tried BodyPump, I didn't like it at all.

I had absolutely zero muscle mass. I got kind of winded just carrying around the plastic step.

The music and choreography made me feel like I was being filmed for an MTV video, surrounded by super-fit people who were lifting way more than my three-kilogram (that's six pounds) barbell.

But I kept doing it because I had set this goal of getting in shape and, well, BodyPump continued to be on the fitness schedule.

I liked the weightlifting, and the class was less intimidating than the free weights area of the gym, which tends to be dominated by very bulky men who are usually doing things like pull-ups and often have no visible neck.

Eventually, I got better at it and my confidence grew. (This is the part where I sound like an infomercial.)

I had a lot more strength and I definitely lost more weight than I ever lost doing anything else.

I also proved the doctor wrong, which did wonders for my ego. My health issues were gone within a year, just from losing weight and trying to eat healthier.

I do other classes, too, but BodyPump is sort of my bread and butter.

When life gets stressful, I can take out some aggression on a barbell (instead of, say, family members and co-workers).

When I have a day where nothing goes right and I feel like a failure, I can go to the gym and remember that, if nothing else, I can still lift a bunch of weight.

I've heard the stories of many friends and acquaintances who have found their own ways of getting in shape, and they are always inspirational.

One of my editors started running regularly, and recently finished a 5K race. One of my friend's parents, who is a pastor, just ran the Baltimore Marathon, then preached three sermons the next day. Another friend is super-strong because he does BodyRock, an online circuit training program. An acquaintance walked 39 miles for breast cancer.

You don't have to be a fitness nut to make a difference in your health; I certainly still don't consider myself one.

Sometimes even a small change makes a bigger difference than you think.

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