Roger Marolt: Fitness for Mental Health

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Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner / Sun of the Snow Mass

I don’t normally think much about fitness except for the cogs and bolts: am I doing cardio or strength today, core or stretching, balance or recovery and of course am I going to enjoy the great outdoors or keep it indoors? because it’s easier? It sounds like a lot of decisions, but working out has been a habit for so long that I run through this checklist automatically when I wake up and build an action plan into my schedule before the first cup of coffee is mugged.

I’m not obsessed with working out, but it’s a priority. I exercise daily, more or less. Some days I go hard, others I do gentle stretches that I call “yoga” that lead to a light nap that I call “shavasana.”

My mother set the example. She ran, swam and cycled to get her heart rate up and played tennis and skied to get her adrenaline pumping. My father was not very athletic. He liked to ride his bike, but mostly to look at the countryside. He skied almost every day in the winter, just because. He was an old school athlete; the best way to get in shape for your sport was to practice it and the best way to get stronger was to work hard. Killing the daily grind was enough to build enough stamina to get through anything as strenuous as, say, a day of skiing in fresh powder.



I was talking with a friend in the fitness field. His customers are locals. We started discussing fitness trends and I started HIIT and home gyms. He shook his head. The biggest new trend, he told me, is people working for mental health, not physical.

He said his clients don’t care so much about sculpting their bodies lately. Working towards the goal of climbing Aspen Mountain in an hour has no rush. Losing a few pounds is a secondary concern. In his opinion, the fitness business has been turned upside down.



I asked him if he was worried about this change. He scoffed. Not a bit, he said. When people were working out to achieve their fitness goals or to improve their appearance, these were things they only wanted. This new fitness move is more pressing. People need it. Their mental well-being depends on it. They are literally sweating from their troubles and physically exhausting themselves, so they are too tired to worry for a while.

Fitness has played an outsized role in this area for a long time. We followed the trends of America, but we tended to exaggerate them. Jogging in the 70s is when I first noticed. While lots of people were doing it all over the country, everyone here was doing it. We got a reputation as the place for beautiful people because we were young and fit, not old and botoxed.

At the time, a downtown building was erected as “The Aspen Athletic Club Building”. Across the city, the Aspen Club was built as a fitness-based community gathering place. Soon after, the Snowmass Club became a similar meeting place for Snowmass villagers to keep fit and chat.

It could have been the harbinger of big change when the Aspen Club crumbled under the weight of a failed timeshare conversion several years ago. This was presaged by the upgrading of the Snowmass Club and the pricing of loyal locals for decades. Today, the Aspen Athletic Club Building is a penthouse real estate game.

Aspen and Snowmass Village now each have amazing municipal recreation centers, but the days when it made financial sense for a private company to build community health facilities are over. Catering to wealthy visitors is the most profitable priority today, as in everything it seems.

Why am I training? I wouldn’t say I need it, but I like it. Do I really care how I look at my age? Kind of. Do I have serious concerns about my health? Yeah, more than when I was 30, that’s for sure. I tell myself that I train for skiing and that motivates me to go mountain biking in the summer, which encourages me to stretch, rest and eat well all the time. It’s a good chain reaction. Now that COVID is under control for a while, I promise myself that I’ll soon be a regular at the recreation center again, but I didn’t. I do not know why. One thing is clear, though: taking that simple first step just isn’t a physical thing.

Roger Marolt knows that the more you think about exercising, the harder it is to do, and tired muscles don’t hurt as much as a cluttered brain. Email him at roger@maroltllp.com.

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