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How Exercise Can Improve Your Physical and Mental Health

By Leslie Barker

When Barbara Boyd joined a neighborhood gym several years ago, she reasoned that its proximity to her home would be incentive enough to go there often.

“Guess how many times I went,” she says. “Two? Maybe three?”

What happens to good intentions, she says, is life.

You go, Oh, I’ll get to the gym late this morning. Then the phone rings, or you get an email, or you think, I really should pull those weeds and put the laundry in the dryer. Next thing you know, you’re not going.”

But ever since an Orangetheory Fitness studio opened five minutes away from her home in Richardson, Texas, she’s gone at least three times every week. And when she’s in her home state of Washington, where she spends part of the year, she’s a regular at studios there, too.

“The part of the Orangetheory model that’s made all the difference for me is the discipline, the scheduling, and the signing up for a class,” she says. “If you late-cancel, you get charged. It’s not a financial thing for me; it’s a psychological thing. If I sign up for that class, I’m going to show up for that class.”

Barbara pays for the Premier membership, allowing her as many classes as her heart desires. She knows she could save money at a do-it-on-your-own type of gym, but she views belonging to Orangetheory as an investment in her health.

“I’ve never stuck to exercise my whole life like I have with Orangetheory,” she says. “I know classes will start on time and end on time. I know at the end of the hour, I’ll have gotten a good workout, positively. Things will go according to plan, and that makes it work for me.”

Jay Patruno, Experimentation Manager and Nutrition Strategist at Orangetheory, has a word for his company’s culture:

“Invaluable.”

He’s talking about its benefit financially as well as in terms of time spent, energy expended, results shown, and camaraderie created — and that goes for inside the studio as well as out in life.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” he says, “an all-encompassing experience.”

Orangetheory, he says, is committed to its members “in the most science-backed and relevant way. When members can take that chance on themselves and come to the studio for the first class, they then keep coming back and more little victories leak into their lives.”

Maybe you never thought you could pick up heavier weights, he says, “but now you can pick up moving boxes without hurting yourself. Or you’re able to rush through the airport with bags in hand — things we don’t think about as exercise.”

For Barb, this means being easily able to hoist her luggage into the overhead bin on an airplane. Or carry ladders and tools when she’s working in the yard. Or being able to help her mother, who is in her 80s, get out of her chair on days she’s feeling weak.

“I have strength, balance and endurance to do the things I want to do in my life,” Barb says. “More than anything, the workout is a chance to check out from everything else and just focus on that one thing. It’s the one hour in my day I’m not accountable to anyone but myself.”

To invest in your health through Orangetheory, Patruno says, “let yourself try something new and commit to it.”

Knowing you are part of something larger makes the Orangetheory experience especially profound and particularly fun, he says. There’s a whole roomful of people — including a dedicated and inspiring coach — also giving their absolute all.

“It’s an individual experience — everybody is doing what they can do right at that exact time,” he says. “But we’re also spending this moment together. We’re breathing together. We have the mindset that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable. By doing so, you’re opening yourself up to progress. And when you leave the studio, you’re leaving with a new version of yourself.”

That magical hour, done consistently, “makes you confident to try new things,” Patruno says. “If you’re seeing benefits at home, or you’re more focused at work, or you have more energy to be social and be with family and friends, what is that worth to you?”

For John Wooley, plenty. As a physician who is always encouraging patients to exercise, he practices what he preaches. Long-distance running had always been his passion, but several years ago he injured his hip and had to stop. He was also grieving the loss of both parents and his father-in-law, as well as building a new home.

“I felt anxious, and I’d never had anxiety,” he says. “I’m a huge believer in mental health, and I realized how important exercise was and how it had always helped me deal with stress.”

A friend recommended he try Orangetheory. He started out taking two or three classes a week. Now he’s up to four or five.

“I always liked the endorphins I got when I was a long-distance runner,” John says. “After I injured my hip and couldn’t run, I tried speed walking and lifting weights. But neither flipped my switch.”

During workouts now, though, “there are plenty of endorphins going on at Orangetheory,” says John, whose dedication and enthusiasm inspired two daughters and a son-in-law to sign up, too. “It’s the whole philosophy of being coached to get into the right zones at the right time. At the end of class, you feel like you’ve done everything you can do.”

He has high praises for the knowledgeable coaches, for the variety of workouts, for the ability to take a class in any city where he’s traveling, for being able to sign up for classes — which he does a month in advance. He also likes the challenges, and has signed up for the next DriTri.

“All you have to do is show up,” John says. “It’s a phenomenal value.”