Night Moves 

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I recently returned to working the night shift. Although I'm adapting to a rotating schedule, my workouts often feel more like sleepwalking than vigorous exercise. I'm not the exception. Across Richmond, women are struggling to manage chaotic schedules while making time for fitness.

Beth Freedman, a 39-year-old mother and wife living in Chester, juggles the roles of world language department chair and Spanish teacher at Falling Creek Middle School and adjunct faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University. She takes a proactive approach in maintaining a regular exercise schedule -- by swimming three days a week at 4 a.m

"After having my two kids, I couldn't use any equipment in the house because I didn't want to wake them too early," Freedman says. So she drives to the gym in the dark, swims and showers while her family continues to sleep, and returns home by 6 to get her kids up and hurry off to work. Believe it or not, she relishes this morning ritual. "I get in my own zone," she says.

My gym doesn't open until 5:30 a.m., but Freedman takes advantage of her membership at American Family Fitness, which stays open 24 hours a day from Sunday morning through Friday night. Such extended hours make exercising in a gym accessible for women like me who work nontraditional shifts, and for others like Freedman who start their day significantly earlier than most.

Snap Fitness, which has multiple locations in Richmond, accommodates exercisers around the clock; its members have access to the gym anytime. A convenient location is another important incentive, says Lynn Rathbun, who with her husband, David, opened a Snap gym in Bon Air in January. "The closer it is to your residence," she says, "the more you're going to use it."

For Erica Burford, a 29-year-old mother of one living in Lakeside, it was convenience and atmosphere that drew her to a gym membership for the first time in her life. Burford stopped by New Fitness for Ladies, near the corner of Brook Road and East Parham, on her way home from work as a project manager at Citizens Financial. "I instantly felt comfortable," she recalls of this ladies-only fitness center.

At New Fitness, Burford received a comprehensive fitness assessment that included a health history and body-fat percentage calculation. To keep her motivated, her membership includes regular meetings with a trainer to monitor her progress and develop new fitness routines. Eighteen months later, the camaraderie Burford feels at the gym keeps her returning most days of the week.

Although she goes in the evening rather than early morning, Burford, like Freedman, says she enjoys regular exercise. "Luckily," Burford says, "I've found out that it's something I love doing, because it's something I'm going to have to do for the rest of my life."

As for me, I doubt you'll catch me swimming at 4 a.m. anytime soon. Despite working nights, my preferred exercise is running outside, an activity most safely done in daylight. But I've found that no matter what your schedule, if you find an activity that you truly love, you'll find the time.



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