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A group of active, older adult women in a dance class.

One of my favorite times of the year is the Fourth of July. My nostalgia goes into overload as I think back to the annual Bexley, Ohio parades I attended growing up and the taste of my favorite red, white, and blue jelly bean assortment we’d get for our block party.

Some of my best Fourth of July celebrations, however, were spent on the New Smyrna Beach coast in Florida where we’d walk the beach watching all the families proudly displaying the fortune of fireworks they’d hauled out to launch to celebrate the holiday. And now, as a parent, our tradition is taking annual trips up north from where we live in Minnesota to sit around the campfire, make up ghost stories while eating s’mores, and watch fireworks over the lake as we create our own memories to look back on one day.

Three young kids standing facing a lake with the American flag in the background.

When the pandemic hit, if you were like me, your memories may have seemed to take a backseat in your brain as we were so intimately focused on what was happening around the world and to our loved ones. The past didn’t seem to matter, as it was all about staying on-alert in the present — and we lost sight of some of what brought joy to us each day.

Reminiscing — whether among the company of friends and family or in our own solitude — is such a simple pastime we take for granted. Taking time to remember the moments that made us smile or laugh can help provoke those same positive emotions again and flex our cognitive muscles. Have you done enough of that lately? If not, I’d encourage you to take a pause to consciously remember something that brings or has brought you joy — and then figure out how you can find more of that in your life every day.

As we approach the Fourth of July holiday this year and I was reflecting on the power of the memories I have of that day (and that I will continue to make), it made me think about another time recently when looking back on a past moment resulted in a pretty great impact in my present.

Turning Up the Volume

For myself, music is a gateway to reminiscing. The song “Rosanna” reminds me of road trips with my parents. Poison takes me to kickball with the neighborhood kids. And “Achy Breaky Heart” brings me back to the gym where I worked and would meet up with friends for line-dancing classes. I also credit music as a starting point for helping me “wake up” or breakthrough what felt like a never-ending pandemic haze.

Before the onset of the pandemic, I was in the best shape I’d been in since having kids, dedicated to taking several of Life Time’s more high-intensity classes five times a week. I took these with a group of women at work to all motivate one another. Just like many, during the pandemic, my old routine and tribe scattered, and my priorities shifted. I forgot how good it felt to move not just physically, but also mentally, and it was showing — I looked out of shape and I felt exhausted.

I decided one day to revisit one of my pre-pandemic workout playlists I’d lost interest in and it brought back a load of feelings: a love for the rhythms, an urge to hop in my car so I could belt the lyrics, and wanting to be somewhere where I could dance to it where no one (AKA my children) would laugh at me. Just like Gloria Estefan says, the rhythm really did get me.

This motivated me to restart a routine at the club. I discovered a group dance class taught by an instructor, Teri, with a playlist heavily favoring music from the ‘90s that made me smile as much as it made me move. When “If” by Janet Jackson came on to end the class, I danced my heart out. It took me back to a fun memory from when I was in eighth grade and attended a Janet Jackson tour show — it was then that I had my 15 minutes of fame when MTV News asked to film me doing the “If” dance that I had secretly practiced in my basement leading up to the show.

With this group dance class, I had found an hour where I could unleash the retired cheerleader in me, ignite the inner clubber, and challenge my brain through coordinated movements. I’d leave class wanting more — and happier.

Turning the Tables

Now, I’d like to ask you to reminisce: What was your favorite song to drive around to with your friends in high school? What was the song you’d belt into a hairbrush? Whose dance moves did you try to imitate? Listen to that music again and tell someone about your memories of it as you celebrate Independence Day this year — those are moments that deserve to be remembered, but that we often forget.

Then, after you conclude your holiday celebrations, here’s my next encouragement: Don’t just listen to the music — get moving to it! I’m personally so happy that we recently launched an ARORA Dance class format at select Life Time locations. It is such a fantastic way to simply have fun while you’re working out to music that we hope provokes some great memories you may have forgotten — or that you just haven’t laughed about in a while.

I’d highly suggest trying this class or another dance class like Zumba (available at select clubs). And if you do, I’d also encourage you to share your stories and the music that you love to dance to with your instructor. In one of my recent ARORA Dance classes, I had a major nostalgia moment when “Grease Lightning” came on. When I complimented the instructor, Kaylee (who was amazing!), about her playlist, she said most of it is driven by member requests. The instructors would like nothing more than to build the songs you love into a future class at your club, too.

Here’s to making — and remembering — more memories!

Annie Kragness
Annie Kragness

Annie Kragness is the program director and co-founder of ARORA, Life Time’s community supporting healthy living for older adults.

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