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The mature are ready to go around these Curves


I SAT ON MY EXERCISE mat, puddled in my own sweat and humiliation. I had survived another Total Fitness with Tina, but my ego had not. It was as sore as any muscle.

"There has got to be another way," I muttered, as I looked around the exercise room at my classmates, all of whom, I surmised, were former ballerinas, half my age and training for triathlons.

I have been part of every fitness craze, from racquetball to yoga, but my longevity is just the reason that I may be ready for the latest exercise phase -- Curves for Women.

I am a woman of a certain age. There are parts of me that don't bend as well as they used to bend, and parts of me that hurt all the time. I still like to sweat, but I can't seem to keep it up as long as I used to without feeling completely wrung out.

I am not ready for a seniors stretch class, but I can no longer hang in with the 30-somethings the way I used to. I don't mind feeling sore, but I can't handle feeling defeated.

It looks like Curves might be my next stop on the exercise treadmill.

Curves is a franchise phenomenon in the health club world, a market that expands and shrinks like a yo-yo dieter.

Begun in 1992 in Texas by Gary Heavin, who had already ridden the health club roller-coaster, it was supposed to be the answer for the woman turned off by the usual health club accoutrements: mirrors and men.

Curves uses the old circuit system familiar to us veteran gym rats: a series of 16 machine-stations that exercise the major muscle groups, with a little cardio workout in between. Our favorite oldies blare in the background, interrupted every 30 seconds by instructions to go onto the next station.

The whole thing takes 30 minutes, which is supposed to be another selling point for women who can't find the time between work and home to exercise.

Curves franchises are usually located in strip malls or office buildings, and it is strictly no-frills: no showers, no locker room, no babysitting and no steam room. Just exercise.

And Curves is relatively inexpensive, running about $30 or $40 a month, and you can pay as you go, without signing one of those lifetime membership deals.

Donna Stauber, the health and nutrition specialist for Curves, is a women much like me. She ran for 30 years, but her hip and her knees were telling her she had to find another form of exercise.

"I walked into Curves, before I worked for them, and I thought, this sissy white equipment isn't going to do it.

"Well, it kicked my butt."

Stauber's testimony extends beyond the effectiveness of the Curves hydraulic-powered machines, which can respond to any level of fitness. It has to do with the sewing-circle arrangement of the machines. Women, advised to come three times a week, were chatting, making friends.

"I've lost weight and I've kept it off. What I do now, I can do for a lifetime and it won't hurt.

"But the camaraderie that I found there is powerful. Friendship is vital to women and you get that at Curves," Stauber says.

According to a company spokesman, the franchising of Curves has happened faster than that of McDonald's or Subway, both of which took more than a quarter-century to hit the same number of outlets that Curves has hit in seven years: about 7,000.

The company also says that most of the members are women between 34 and 54, but I expect that the numbers at the older end of that spectrum will balloon, if for no other reason that all my fellow mothers are joining Curves these days.

We have all realized at about the same time that we have to keep exercising and that simply walking and talking for five miles on weekends isn't getting it done.

Not only do we need to exercise to keep the weight off, but we also need to exercise. Like our children, we have been at it for a lot of years now, and it is an integral part of our lives.

Maybe our knees can't handle Super Step classes anymore. Maybe we will never be flexible enough for Hot Yoga. And heaven knows we will never wear those cute little spandex outfits again.

And we may even quit exercising for long stretches of time, blaming the weather, our children's schedules, work or the demands of the house or the garden.

But women, ever the optimists, always seem to come back to exercise. Maybe it is water aerobics this time. Maybe we will join a masters swim team or pick up tennis again.

"Women our age are looking for something different and something that they will, and can, do," said Stauber.

I think I am probably ready for Curves, if for no other reason than it is something different and it may rekindle my interest in exercise the way a new pair of running shoes used to inspire me to increase my mileage.

All I know for certain is that I am still scrambling to avoid what may be the next exercise phase for me: Couches.

For a franchise near you, visit the Curves web site at www.curvesinternational.com.

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