Saturday, February 21, 2009

Unconventional Thoughts About Exercise

I was debating with myself about what to talk about next. Television was an obvious topic, the others are not as obvious. Now conventional wisdom about exercise seems to be:
  1. It's good for you.
  2. It helps balance out other bad behaviors.
  3. It is work and only health nuts actually enjoy it.
My take on exercise is slightly different:
  1. It's good for you if done in moderation.
  2. It does not balance out other bad behaviors (those bad behaviors need to be dealt with in their own context).
  3. It is only work and unpleasant if you are choosing your exercise poorly or overdoing it.
So starting with that ground work. Let me share some of my thoughts on exercise. When I was a kid, I played outside a lot. But, by the time I was about junior high age, I spent most of my time indoors. I watched a lot of TV and I was a bit of a book worm. My family would go camping and hiking a good bit as I was growing up. We also had a garden. We would go on neighborhood bike rides (which I hated with a passion). Also on my own I learned to ride a unicycle. I was also in Track and Field both in Jr. High and briefly in High School. With these types of activities, I discovered that I was actually a relatively active person despite my indoor tendencies.

In college, I had to still take some P.E. classes so I chose a par course fitness/jogging class, an archery class, a hiking class, and a wellness class where you chose your exercise and had to keep a log about how much you did. To one degree or other I enjoyed these classes. But, in college your time is valuable and I resented the time taken away from the other things I wanted to do. When you have a test to study for or a paper due in the morning, an extra hour out of your day can be burdensome. As soon as I completed my P.E. requirements, I turned my back on routine exercise with pleasure.

However, I have a few eccentricities that helped me stay in shape. I hate elevators. I am highly susceptible to motion sickness and elevators make me feel queasy. So, as long as I wasn't over-rushed for time, I would take the stairs instead. I also think it is pointless to drive circles in a parking lot looking for a close parking space. It reminds me of a vulture looking for road kill. I would rather find any parking place and spend that time walking to the place I need to be. I also happened to choose a college to go to that had an exercise program built in to attending there. Pepperdine University's Malibu campus is built on some coastal mountains overlooking the ocean. It is a great view. But it is on numerous hillsides. You literally can go up an down several hills in the course of a day on campus and there are stairs everywhere you go. It is possible but not easy to get around if you have a wheelchair (It takes a bit of planning). When I was a student at San Jose State, my library science classes were on the sixth floor of Walquist Library. I took the stairs most of the time unless I was late for class. Since having kids, however, I have had to resign myself to elevators. strollers don't work well on stairs or escalators.

But, Other than choosing to walk or take stairs instead of finding a method taking less effort, I didn't do much exercise. I was a college student. Then I was in the work world. That takes up most of the day and then meals and sleep account for most of the rest of the day. The few hours left to use as I chose, became time for TV, movies, reading, or sewing. All of which are rather sedentary.

It wasn't until I married that I started to do much exercise. Tim and I would occasionally take walks in our neighborhood on the weekends or on summer evenings when the sun was up late. After I wasn't working and became pregnant, my doctor emphasized to me the importance of exercise while I was pregnant. So I started to take walks on my own in the morning and walks with my husband on weekends and summer evenings. I discovered that I enjoyed this exercise for it's own sake. I liked looking at the houses and trees and seeing things at walking speed rather than driving speed. Then after the Pillowfight Fairy was born, I would take her out with me on walks first in a front carrier, then in a stroller when she was old enough to sit up. At this point, I realized that I relied on these walks for sanity. It got me out of our tiny apartment to breathe the fresh air and experience the seasons. It gave her some interesting things to see everyday. We both tended to be cranky if we didn't get our daily outing. I have kept up this routine ever since. Whenever schedule and weather allows, we get out and have a walk. Some of my neighbors have commented on how we look like a parade at times. Oh yes... neighbors... we actually get to know some of our neighbors from these walks.

The kids don't always appreciate the walks (especially the Pillowfight Fairy who isn't allowed to ride in a stroller), but they actually have fun playing along the way once we are outside. The two oldest are old enough to walk the route without rest stops now. The Happy Boy is confined to the double stroller for the duration (mainly because he's two and obeys like a typical two year old, plus he runs faster than I do now). I use the double stroller just in case the Adrenaline Junkie gets tired or hurt along the way, so I don't have to try to carry her as well as pushing a stroller. I have decided not to give the kids a choice in this matter. The walks are good for their mother's morale and the exercise is good for them. That should be reason enough.

In the process of this lifestyle of the last eight years, I have come to some ideas about exercise that are different from where I started.
  1. Our modern American lifestyle is work intensive and recreation intensive, but unless your work or recreation has much activity in it, you don't have time for exercise. To exercise, people have to give up something else like sleep, time with family, favorite pastimes, etc. In a situation like this, it is unlikely that people will even want to make time for exercise on a regular basis because it is taking the place of something they would rather be doing.
  2. Working out at a gym has it's benefits (you don't have to own and store the equipment at home for instance), but it is not as nice as taking a walk in the woods. To make exercise convenient to us, we tend to put it inside buildings and keep it fairly structured. That does not allow us time to relax our minds and feel the enjoyment of a natural environment. Even my walk in the neighborhood is walking among man-made things, but at least we can watch the plants grow, feel the breeze, and enjoy the change of seasons.
  3. Most people who start to "exercise" for their health, start too big. I think the reasoning is that if I do more it will result in a change of habit. The problem is that starting big, wears you out too much and results in bad experiences. The more bad experiences you have the less likely you will stay at it until it becomes a habit. Start with a small change in habit. Something easy. After that much is a habit, you can increase it in some way to make it more challenging. Before long you not only are participating in some decent, challenging exercise, you have developed a habit, and still enjoy it.
  4. Too many people choose a type of exercise because it is the trendy thing to do. If you are a particularly social person who needs to do your exercise in a group environment, by all means pick a popular pastime so you can do it with friends. Otherwise, choose something that suits you. I can't stand team sports, personally, so I'm not going to join a softball league. I'm a bit of an individualist, walking is just right for me (I just have a built in entourage).
  5. People need to think a little more creatively about exercise. Walking when something is close, instead of driving gives exercise and saves gas. Don't prize the close parking places, let yourself walk. Take stairs instead of the elevator. Do your own yard work instead of hiring it out. Do your own housework instead of hiring it out. Do some aspects of your job involve bending or lifting, consider it calisthenics and weight lifting (just be sure to use good posture). You can actually purchase pedometers that you can wear during the day to measure how much you walk during the day. My parents got some through their HMO through a program that was trying to promote exercise. The idea was to try to work up to 10,000 steps a day as a routine level of activity. Think about your activity levels and embrace the activity rather than avoiding it.
Well, I'm having trouble thinking of more to say, so I must be done with this topic. I would like to hear other people's ideas about novel ways to include exercise into a busy schedule. What works for you? Our society is much more atuned to self-indulgence than self-discipline. How do you find ways to be active in your routine?

1 comment:

Crimson Wife said...

I prefer outdoor exercise but that can be tricky during the rainy/snowy season (depending on where we are living). So I've also got an extensive collection of fitness DVD's. I hate dancy aerobics because I've got 2 left feet but I enjoy kickboxing, "boot camp" style circuit workouts, and Pilates. My family teases me about having so many workouts, but the variety keeps me from getting bored with working out.