Local View: Strenuous exercise may be hazardous to your health
A Nielsen survey found that Americans' number-one New Year's resolution is losing weight and getting in shape. But it also determined that 36 percent of those pledging quit before the end of January. This means that over a third of us will fall b...
A Nielsen survey found that Americans' number-one New Year's resolution is losing weight and getting in shape. But it also determined that 36 percent of those pledging quit before the end of January. This means that over a third of us will fall back into our self-loathing ruts in just a few days.
So I have a simple suggestion to help people stick with their promise to exercise and slim down: Do not resolve to do something you hate.
Too many people set goals they're confident they can attain but that constitute excruciating boredom or misery. Who among us does not know a former dedicated jogger who will never run again, vanquished by injury, time constraints, or the tedium of the trail? Or last year's optimist trying to extricate himself from an extended contract with a private gym? Or the well-intentioned purchaser of a NordicTrack or other pricey exercise equipment, relegated to the basement beneath a tarp?
Analogously, it's easy to understand why so many professional athletes balloon, once they retire from the sport. Charles Barkley in basketball, Tony Gwynn in baseball, George Foreman in boxing, Tonya Harding in figure skating, Jamarcus Russell in football, and others: once they quit competing and no longer have the salary, incentive, or pressure to excel, they grant their bodies permission to relax and unravel into obesity. They should not be criticized. All their lives they had to maintain a disciplined, rigorous, and painful exercise regimen, so that retirement felt like that overdue vacation they never were permitted.
Therefore, it's not hard to conclude from these retired pros, and from acquaintances who've abandoned exercise, that acutely unpleasant, excruciating, and monotonous workout routines DE-incentivize people to continue. In other words, if you sign up at LA Fitness with a resolution for 90 minutes a day in a sweaty death match with stainless steel machinery, it's a good bet that by February you'll be spending the bulk of your club membership lounging in the spa.
The fact is, our upbringing, culture, and education have inculcated us to think there is no gain with no pain. Yet when we opt for pain, the days become harder and harder and eventually wear us down.
If, however, we opt for moderate, exhilarating exercise that leaves us stimulated but not destroyed, we will hop out of bed the next day eager to do it again. I am no expert, but I'm convinced it can work for you - because it worked for me.
I am 5-foot-10 and when one morning I tipped the scales approximately one doughnut shy of 240 pounds, I panicked and chose the pain route. I took off running and jogged every day as long as I could stand it. I plopped in a recliner afterward, lightheaded and hypertensive. Not to mention starved. So I ate freely to sustain my running, and you already know where that led.
Sure, I liked the "high" that runners claim they get in peak moments. But the sore knees, spinal disks, and hips, not to mention the heat and exhaustion, made running hell. I did lose weight, but I dreaded exercising.
For Phase II, I quit running in favor of workout centers and exercise machines; but I found them confining and wearisome, in that order. And though I realize that for many people the social component is part of the allure of a community or private gym, I found it uncomfortable and disconnected from my real purpose.
For Phase III, I bought a bike. Just a simple, single-speed, extra-large-comfort bike. And the rest is history. Now I look forward to each day's 60 minutes of solitude and exercise in fresh air. The route is never the same, nor is the calorie burn. But the pleasure is such that I don't even think of it as exercise anymore. Instead, it's my daily hour of sightseeing while reinvigorating in the great outdoors. I don't kill myself. I don't sprint. I start out pedaling leisurely, and then I notch it up just enough to raise the heart rate.
Since that fateful day on the bathroom scale, I have lost 60 pounds. I eat reasonably all week but still pig out on Saturdays with pizza and beer and ice cream. I weigh what I did in high school, though I am past middle age. An added bonus is that my resting pulse is always in the 50s. My doctor thinks I'm an anomaly, but I don't do anything special. It's just that what I do, I do every day.
Of course, the weather or traffic or wintry location can make bicycling problematic. But it doesn't have to be a bike or doesn't even have to be the outdoors. Just find an activity you like, whether ice skating, swimming, hiking, rowing, cross country skiing, or dancing. Then determine your cruising speed and up it one notch. Proceed to do it for 30 to 60 minutes every day.
It will be something you continue well past January - and well past 2019 - with consequences wonderful both for your body and your mind.
David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, emeritus English professor, the author of "The Territory," and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .