Until his untimely death from kidney failure in 2002, Tomás Chavez was a fixture on the Ann Arbor fitness scene. At various times over the years, I took classes in floor aerobics, step aerobics, and ballroom dancing with Tomás at the local gym. My husband gamely joined me in the ballroom dance classes, despite being, in his own words, “dance-impaired” (hard to explain when he’s an expert skier, but that’s another story!). We weren’t very good at ballroom dancing; we repeated the beginner class, then started intermediate and after the first night dropped back to the beginner class again. But my husband didn’t really mind because Tomás made it so much fun. We joked that we could dance at anyone’s wedding so long as we could bring along Tomás to call out the next move; we agreed that it took three to tango – and the third one had to be Tomás.
Tomás was a true small-d democrat when it came to fitness: Fitness is for everyone. One of his favorite sayings was, “If you can walk, you can dance.” Though my husband might demur, I think Tomás would readily have classified his efforts as “dancing.” It was great if you increased in proficiency over time but it didn’t really matter if you didn’t, so long as you just kept moving.
Tomás made aerobics fun by cracking a steady stream of little jokes (often ever-so-slightly risqué), by making up new moves and naming them after the students (he knew everyone’s name), by gradually increasing the complexity of the routine, and by praising even small improvements. He knew that the secret of fitness was to find ways to make it fun. He understood that if it’s fun, you’ll keep doing it.
If you can walk, you can dance. If you can do either, you can burn calories. If you can burn calories, you can manage your weight when you stop smoking. The trick is to find something you enjoy doing. Do you prefer to exercise alone, with a friend, or in a class? Indoors or out? In front of the TV or in silence? Experiment till you find a form of physical activity you like well enough to keep doing it. And if you are such a diehard exerphobe that you truly can’t identify any activity you enjoy, then find yourself a Tomás who will make the time fly by so fast your workout will be over before you even realize you’ve been exercising!
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.