Exercise

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Just like our bodies are meant to sleep, our bodies are meant to move. These days, most of us don’t spend hours and hours in a field hoeing beets and weeding. We don’t walk for miles every day. We don’t haul water, look after livestock, chop down trees, tend fires or really cook from scratch whereby you start with a live chicken, a vegetable garden, and a pile of whole wheat flour (that you ground yourself) and turn those raw ingredients into chicken stew with dumplings. And wash up by hand afterwards.

Labor-saving devices really do save labor, I will never give up my washing machine. I’ll give up a lot of appliances before the washer goes. I will joyfully hand-wash dishes if it means I can keep my washing machine. Hand-washing all your clothing, linens, towels, bedding, etc is stunningly labor- and time-intensive. One of the very first things that women did, as soon as they had any spare money at all, was to either hire out the laundry or get a James Hand Washer (Review at Paratus Familia Blog). But I digress.

exercise james hand washer

James Hand Washer in use, from Paratus Familia Blog.

We all used to live far more strenuous lives that involved huge amounts of work and exertion. This change isn’t a bad thing: very few of us in the first world drop dead of exhaustion by age 50 anymore. But it does mean that since physical fitness is no longer built into our day-to-day routine, we have to work at it.

I am not talking about being model thin either. There are plenty of thin people who can’t run a mile without gasping for breath. Being thin does not equate to being fit. It is perfectly possible to be overweight (not hugely of course) and have better cardiovascular fitness than that skinny person over there who can’t walk five miles and spade over a garden bed.

You get a stronger heart, better wind, more endurance, more strength and flexibility by using your body every day. A stronger body is healthier and more resilient. You are better able to move when you have to. You may never have to run down 55 flights of stairs after a terrorist attack, like many did on 9/11. But you will be better able to take care of your loved ones if you take care of yourself.

My dear husband, Bill, and I are both 54. Time and miles are both putting their marks upon us. Yet I am now in far better physical shape than I was ten years ago. I’ve lost forty pounds, and I did it because I exercise an incorporate movement every day.

exercise

I could choose to decline, bitching all the way, or change how I lived.

Why did I do this? It was starting to hurt too much to not exercise. My hips hurt. My knees hurt. All my joints hurt. I couldn’t do the things I used to do. If I had to do some strenuous (or not so strenuous) gardening, I would be crippled for the entire next day. My future was clear: I could choose to decline, bitching all the way, or change how I lived.

Declining, I will say right now, would have been easier by far; also far more painful. It was reaching the point where every staircase was becoming an effort to use as it hurt my knees so much. I could not lie down comfortably because my hips hurt. I took a lot of pain meds and they helped, a little. My weight led directly to gallbladder disease. I had to have surgery. That was painful and unpleasant too. I didn’t like the way I felt, I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like the way I was aging.

So I started getting more serious about what I ate and how much I exercised. I started walking more. I tried to eat less and better. I bought a Wii Fit Plus package and started using it. I bought a bicycle which I still can’t use as it hurts my knees too much. But I’m getting there. I hope to be able to start using it in the spring. I got a pedometer. I got a dog, to encourage still more walking. Muffy really is multi-functional: security, varmint control, company, and exercise equipment all in one.

As I said, I now weigh about forty pounds less than I did at my peak but this is just a guess, as I avoided scales like the plague. Am I still overweight? Oh, you bet I am! I’d like to lose another thirty to forty pounds. It is true that I will never even approach that perfect weight for my height without living through the zombie apocalypse. But I can now outrun slower, fatter people to escape the zombie horde and isn’t that what counts?

And I feel so much better. My knees don’t hurt, my hips don’t hurt. I sleep better. I can work outside without crippling myself for the next few days. My simple yoga routine means my joints don’t hurt and I am far more flexible. My incredibly basic aerobic routine means I don’t get out of breath. My stupidly basic strength training routine means I can do heavy yard work without a day of agony afterwards. My back doesn’t routinely hurt anymore. I can walk a few miles at a stretch with my dog. I take a lot fewer over-the-counter pain meds.

All this wonderfulness only cost me time and effort and plenty of it. Not very much money, just what I shelled out for the aforementioned Wii Fit Plus game and balance board. The bike was some money but I should be able to use it by the spring as my body gets stronger and lighter. A good pair of sneakers. A pedometer to remind me to keep moving. I check my steps throughout the day and that keeps me motivated to keep walking around.

The time and the effort are actually far harder than spending the money, even for me. What can I say? I don’t like to part with my hard-earned bucks. But the time! the effort! Spending cash is a one-time evolution. Fitness is earned, an hour at a time, day after day after day. So yes, a large expenditure of time and effort is needed to feel better every day.

The time needed to work out requires, of course, more of that pesky time management. I now exercise (dedicated exercise time, I mean) about an hour a day. This is time that I can’t spend cooking from scratch, writing for you, dear reader, sewing my wardrobe of coats, gardening, doing research, or any of the other hundreds of things I need or want to do. This time doesn’t include daily dog walking or any of my daily work around my home and yard. It is exercise time. I do my routine; I get on with the day.

Making dedicated time to exercise each and every day is really hard. Because we only get 24 hours a day, it is a guarantee that you will have to sacrifice something else to find the time. Now if you spend a few hours a day watching TV or aimlessly surfing, you have the time available. You just need to get motivated. But if you already use all of your time productively (be honest!), you get to make hard choices as to what to give up.

The other hard part of exercise is making the effort. You block out the time and then you get hot, sticky, and sweaty. There are people who will tell you that magical endorphins will appear and you will genuinely love how you feel, while you are exercising. This has not been true for me. I will say that as I get in better shape, I feel better while I exercise but it isn’t ever rainbows and unicorns, blue sky and candy canes fun.

I put on the mindset that I need to exercise to feel better in every part of my life and so now I just get on with it. What finally worked for me was a) finding a routine that I could stick to, and b) focusing on how my muscles stretched as I moved through said routine. It has to be kind of Zen for me. This mental discipline has taken a lot of work. It certainly didn’t come naturally for me.

So I exercise every day now. Both dedicated time and whatever I can incorporate into my day. My example has even led to Bill working out.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf.

Like me, Bill was never a gym rat. But like me, he was finding out, as he aged, that he didn’t like how he felt. Exercising for him was a mental struggle as well as a physical struggle.

But he got started. In the last year, Bill has lost twenty pounds. He now walks twice a day. He has his own dedicated exercise routine. He feels a lot better. He looks better. For him, it was a matter of recognizing that he had to do body maintenance every day, like brushing his teeth. Like me, he had to make time for his program, time that he couldn’t spend doing something else. He has to be more focused when he is writing as he has less time overall in which to write. That twenty-four-hours-a-day issue: you never get less, but you never get more either.

Is it worth it to him? Absolutely. Is it worth it to me? Yes, absolutely. And we encourage each other to keep at it. Better health, better focus, better flexibility, better shape. So we exercise. Every day, both dedicated time and as part of our daily routine.

Next Week: The Joy of Sweating, Muscle Pain, and a General Hatred of Life