The Joys of Exercise

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Last week, we looked at why you should exercise. It comes down to a choice: use it or lose it. We lead more sedentary lives. We spend more time behind a desk than walking around. As a result, when we take in the same number of calories each day, we’re converting more of it into fat than into energy. As the elephant in the stretch pants says: something’s got to give.

This week, we’ll look at what we can do to become fit.

GF-run-exercise-home-monstersYou can improve your fitness two ways. Both require effort, time, and thought. The first way is to incorporate movement into your daily routine. The second way is actual dedicated time spent working out.

So how do you incorporate physical activity in your daily routine? You do things like when you park your car (backing into the space, of course, making it easier to leave and less likely to ding an oncoming vehicle); you park as far away from the building as you can, then walk in. Use the stairs (up and down) instead of elevators and escalators. Knowing their location is also useful in an emergency. When you run errands, park in a central location and walk to as many of them as feasible rather than moving the car between each location. This saves gas, too.

When talking on the phone, walk back and forth. Most of us can walk and talk at the same time; it’s just a matter of remembering to do this rather than sitting down.

If you can be moving around while doing something, then move around.

Walk your dog. Every day. Twice a day. And give your dog long walks, not just in and out so the dog can do its business. Your dog will be so grateful, and you will learn your area, meet all your neighbors, and get into better shape.

Wear a pedometer. I put mine on an elastic band around my ankle because it didn’t work to wear it at my waist. Get the very cheapest one you can find at Wal-Mart. The expensive ones don’t work any better (I know from personal experience) but they are much more complicated to operate. It is far more upsetting to lose a $45 pedometer than a $5 one. If all you want to do is count steps, you don’t need a pedometer that will calculate calories, act as a stop watch, tell time, and track short-term and long-term goals.

The pedometer reminds you to keep moving. I check mine throughout the day to see how many steps I have walked. The short goal is 5,000 steps a day. The long goal is to make 10,000 steps each day. The super goal is to break 15,000 steps. What you discover very quickly is that you have to move around a lot to hit 10,000 steps. Two long dog walks daily (of a mile or so each) will help considerably in reaching this goal.

If your pedometer tells you that you only walk a thousand steps per day or so, then you need to get up and move around a lot more.

Pick the more strenuous option, whether mixing up a cake with a wooden spoon as opposed to a hand mixer or spading over a garden bed versus using a rotary tiller. Do it by hand, using your body, and you improve your fitness and save some energy dollars for some other use. A clothes line is a fine example: it costs you nothing other than some time to hang the wash and you get to walk back and forth outside in the sun. A dryer costs you money to run and does nothing to improve your health.

Jimmy Kimmel is not only getting healthier, but the generator attached to his treadmill creates electricity that contributes to NBC's profit margin. Win-win!

Jimmy Kimmel is not only getting healthier, but the generator attached to his treadmill creates electricity that contributes to NBC’s profit margin. Win-win!

As you incorporate more movement into your daily routine, you start to hear of other ways to do this. A treadmill desk lets you walk and type at the same time. You can buy one, or, if you are handy, build one yourself. You can put a treadmill in front of your TV set too, and use it instead of sitting down while watching a show.

If you feel particularly inspired (or cruel), hook up your TV set to a bicycle. If you or your children want to watch TV, then somebody has to bicycle enough to generate the electricity needed to run the TV. This will both improve family fitness AND cut down on excess TV viewing. Clearly a win all around.

There is, in fact, a whole host of ways to use bikes to generate power to run various small and not so small appliances. Every one of the ideas presented in this book will improve your overall fitness and save you precious energy dollars.

But only if you do them, of course. Like everything else, the road to better fitness is paved with good intentions and very little action. So start small. Whenever you have the option, do it the manual way, using your own muscles. Get a push mower instead of a power mower. Use manual hedge clippers instead of a gasoline hedge trimmer. A cross-cut saw as opposed to a chain saw. A rake instead of a leaf blower.

Yeah, it’s more work. Way more work in many cases. But it costs less, saving both energy dollars and gym membership dollars and builds exercise into your daily routine.

Keep in mind that if you are genuinely concerned about a difficult and challenging future, you need to be prepared to do all your chores manually anyway. Energy costs money. Power tools cost money. You’re going to be eating anyway and thus generating energy yourself, so learn to do what you can with your own muscles now, while it’s easy, while you can visit a doctor if you injure yourself. While there is aspirin and chiropractors on every corner. While there are all kinds of resources available to help you.

The second half of exercising is your dedicated routine. The very best exercise routine is the one you are willing to do on a daily or every other day basis. It doesn’t matter that much what the routine is: I’m not talking to you tri-athletes here, so go off and do your sweaty thing. I’m talking to us couch potatoes. If the thought of exercise makes you want to lie down with a damp tea-towel over your eyes until the urge goes away, then the routine that works best is the one you will actually do. Dig out those old Richard Simmons tapes and start moving.

In my case (and Bill’s), it was getting a Wii Fit Plus game and Balance Board to go with the Wii game platform we already had. I bought it a few years ago and I can now do the various yoga, strength, and aerobic routines daily for an hour a day. I had to work up to this level over the years and I had to learn to do the various exercises.

The Wii Fit Plus works quite well for me. It’s convenient. I know what to do. I can make my routine longer as I get stronger. I’ve been thinking about getting wrist and ankle weights to add intensity to what I do. Does this make me able to run mini-marathons? Dear me, no. Have I lost weight, gotten much more toned, and taken care of a number of physical problems? Absolutely.

exercise

The Wii Fit trainer’s now kicking ass over at Super Smash Bros. Work hard, and you can, too!

One of the interesting things I discovered is that I really do have to alternate days between strength training (what we used to call calisthenics), yoga, and aerobics. What happened is that I would focus exclusively on yoga for weeks and then notice that I was losing a little strength in my arms while gaining in flexibility. If I concentrated on strength training, then I lost some of the yoga flexibility and my joints would hurt a little more. If I focused strictly on aerobics I lost strength and flexibility.

Fortunately, the Wii keeps track of what I do day by day, so I check each day and see what I haven’t done recently and I do that routine. If I know I will be walking around all day, I choose flexibility or strength. If I know I will be sitting at the desk or sewing machine all day, I choose aerobics. If my back hurts or my joints bother me more than usual, I choose the yoga option.

I think this point is very important, especially as you get older. My elderly parents (hi mom! (76); hi dad! (80)) both still walk several miles a day and maintain their big house and yard. They also complain that their joints hurt and they are losing their strength. I say to them: find that yoga or tai chi class at the senior center and sign up! Do they listen? They do not. Aerobic activity like long daily walks is important but you still have to be flexible and strong. You are moving a different set of muscles and tendons and all those other body parts when you change your exercise pattern.

I weigh in every day. This reminds me to not eat everything in sight like I want to. The Wii keeps track of my weight over the years so I can look back and see that I have actually improved my fitness. I try very hard to make the time to do a full 50-minute session, but if I simply can’t squeeze out the time, I aim for half an hour. Sometimes, I can only manage 15 minutes but if so, then I do the most strenuous exercises so as to maximize my time. It very rarely works for me to come back later in the day and finish out my time. I’ve found that I have to get the exercise done all at once, first thing in the morning. Again, you have to find out what works best for you.

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf at the gym. What a baby!

Wii Fit has made me so strong I can beat up Ganendorf at the gym. What a baby!

I also started doing sit-ups. I can now do 70 sit-ups a day. Every day. I started with five sit-ups and very gradually, five at a time, worked my way up to my current level. When it stopped hurting to do five, (and I work in sets of five), I did ten. When ten got to be easy, I started doing 15. And so on and so on. Pick your exercise and start with a small number. Then, very gradually, do more.

Now that I do 70 sit-ups a day, I can say that you do not get anything approaching a six-pack. Maybe if you do 700 sit-ups a day you might see that muscle definition. My abs are in far better shape than they were, but since I still have a goodly layer of insulation over them, its hard to see the improvement. I can feel it though. My back works better and so do my intestines.

What matters, in the end, is doing the exercises. If it hurts, then scale back a little. That no pain, no gain mantra is what buys boats for orthopedic surgeons. Don’t pay any attention to it. And don’t pay any attention to those gym rats who tell you that you aren’t doing enough. Or shaming you because of how you look and how you jiggle. This is another reason to begin exercising in the privacy of your own home. Start where you are and gradually, gently, do more. Keep in mind that it is far easier to criticize than it is to do, so some of the people who are saying rude things about your baby steps into fitness may be secretly jealous that you are exercising at all (and they are not).

There are plenty of exercise videos at any library so you can try out a routine for free. Most, if not all, of the game platforms have exercise games available. Again, it matters more that you find a routine that you like and are willing to do on a daily basis. So go down to the library and try out the books and tapes they have on hand. Watch those You-Tube videos to get an idea of what a crunch is. Books aren’t always as clear as you could want.

When you find a routine you like, then buy the video. If you get bored with the same old thing, find a few routines that you like and alternate them. The key is doing it. Every day. Don’t forget to incorporate all three types of movement into your routine: flexibility, strength, and aerobic.

Really, the hardest part by far in exercising is overcoming your own inertia and then, even harder, is making the time. That pesky time management thing rears its head and you have to sacrifice some other thing that you do in order to find the time to exercise.

Eventually, you may want to venture out into a gym. I think, before you do this, you want to be already dedicating daily time to a work-out routine. Gyms cost money and you have to spend even more time as you have to include travel time back and forth and showers and changing rooms and such. Your living room does not have these issues. But, a well equipped gym will have way more options available and people who can show you how to use them.

If you decide to go the gym route, then ask around. What are the local facilities like? Does anyone you know use and recommend them? Go for a visit. Get short-term trial memberships. Don’t spend any money until you are sure you will actually use the gym on a regular basis. If the gym or its staff and patrons makes you feel uncomfortable, fat, out-of-shape, or any other negative feeling, then I guarantee you, you won’t ever go and use it. So shop around.

Other options include yoga and tai chi classes to improve your flexibility and strengthen your joints or martial arts and self-defense classes to improve your personal safety. Again, shop around and try things out as much as you can before laying down a lot of money and a big time commitment. If you won’t do it, and you can’t or won’t spend the time, then the finest gym or aerobics class in the world isn’t worth the money.

If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that offers exercise classes, gym memberships, or other get fit, get healthy programs, then by all means, take advantage of them. If your employer doesn’t offer health options, then stop by human resources and ask if they can be made available. If enough of your co-workers stop and ask for dedicated time to work out, then even Catbert might be persuaded to add health and fitness programs to your company’s benefits package.

It is especially important that you spell out how a healthier, fitter workforce will tend to need less medical care. A fatter, sicklier work force will cost more and be less productive. Knowing this might be enough to get your employer to offer a company wide fitness benefit package. If your company does add this kind of program, after you have asked for one, then sign up right away and use it! Show through your actions that you meant what you said about wanting to exercise on company time.

So look over your options. Add exercise to your daily routine by doing things the manual way. Then add an actual exercise routine to your day. Aerobics, lifting weights, yoga, tai chi, calisthenics, swimming, bicycling, sit ups and push ups, martial arts; it doesn’t matter as long as you start exercising at something. Pick what you like and get moving. And as you get fitter, add more exercise and keep stretching yourself.

Next Week: The Value of Ideas

Update: I revisit exercise much later in the series.