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Sam Cook column: Exercise might be our true calling

I see them every day, now that the light has returned. They were there in the dark of winter, too, but they were harder to notice.

Runners, getting their workouts in. Old men. Young women.

Striding along Skyline Parkway. Charging up Glenwood Street. Cruising along the Lakewalk to the beat of their playlists.

Getting it done again today.

Maybe they’re getting ready for Grandma’s. Maybe they’re trying to shed a few pounds. Maybe they’re hoping that by staying healthy, they’ll get to spend some bonus years with their grandkids.

Or maybe they’re just doing it, as a running friend told me along ago, “because it makes today a better day.”

Any of those reasons is motivation enough to pull on the gear and go.

Not all who are called to cardiovascular pursuits choose to run, of course. They climb on bikes that go nowhere at the gym. They whisper through the winter woods on skinny skis. They log laps at the pool. They pedal fat-tired bicycles through the woods.

It must seem odd to those among us who don’t look for ways to raise their heart rates for part of each day.

A friend of mine, a serious cross-country skier, said a friend of his once denigrated the idea of huffing up and down the hills on skis.

“If I’m going to work that hard, I’m going to get paid for it,” the man said.

Well, OK.

But the elevated-heart-rate crew will share a little secret with you: This is fun. Yeah, you’re pushing yourself a bit. Yet, undeniably, there is joy in the moving.

On the trail, the breeze caresses your flushed cheeks. You splash through last night’s rain like a child. A warbler trills off to the left. A big, blue lake drops over the horizon on your right. Frogs quack. Sunlight dapples.  

In the pool, you’re buoyant. Water glides over your head, down the small of your back, over your well-tuned shoulders. The air is tropical and dense. The water is clear but also blue. And, you remember from biology, water is where we all came from.

Along the way, you record your small victories. Powering your pedals to the top of that rise. Picking up your running cadence until you reach the next utility pole. Ramping up the resistance on the elliptical machine for one final push at the fitness center. Feel the burn, baby. You’ve made it. And tomorrow you’ll make it again.

As you move through the world this way, the thought occurs to you that doing all of this — gliding over the land, slipping through the water, meandering among the trees — may be how we were intended to live. Perhaps sitting all day, pecking at keys, watching lines appear on screens is not the primary activity our bodies were designed for.

I ran into a retired physician I know the other night, a man who believes in regular exercise. He recalled the words of one of his colleagues on the subject of lifestyle choices: “Be sure to check with your doctor before sitting on your butt.”

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”