Lately I’ve felt like the “Maybe you want to exercise?” fairy. People muse about aches, lack of energy, difficulty walking, and wonder if it’s weight or just aging….
And I pop in with, “Are you sure it’s not lack of exercise?”
Please understand, I’m not actually trying to make people crazy. See, I’ve weighed over 350lbs for over 15 years. During that time:
- I’ve been in very poor physical condition, which for me means walking a block or carrying groceries is difficult. This included several months of constant pain in one leg or the other.
- I’ve also been in pretty good physical condition, meaning that walking 2 or 3 miles or carrying boxes of books is easy.
Note that what doesn’t change overly much between these two states is my weight.* What does change is how active I am and whether I’m getting regular exercise. It’s almost like muscles usually get stronger from exercise, or like exercise doesn’t require weight loss to improve health.
I’m not trying to be unsympathetic. I have been at the point where I was in constant pain, such as when I injured myself by starting an exercise program that I thought was moderate and reasonable. (Really! It just, um, turned out not to be moderate and reasonable enough.) I did physical therapy, now it doesn’t hurt … as long as I keep up with my exercises. This has become one of my huge motivators to exercise: not hurting.
I used to get more activity in my daily life, either walking around school or chasing 4-year-olds or walking around the huge office park where I worked. I would feel stronger and more energetic and just better when I was exercising regularly, but even when I wasn’t I wasn’t as sedentary as my life allows now. I don’t get what I consider to be enough activity from my daily life, so I exercise.
I do truly believe that fitness isn’t a “yes” or “no”. It’s a question — fit for what? It’s partly a function of where your body is now (A), what you want to be able to do (B), and what’s involved in getting from A to B. Sometimes it’s not doable, either because of disability, time commitment, or lack of equipment (if you want to be able to swim 2 miles and don’t have access to a pool, you’re going to have problems!)
- I want to be able to walk a few flights of stairs, to be able to walk a few miles, and to be able to lift and carry 50 or 80lbs a few dozen yards.
- I want to be able to balance on one foot for 30 seconds or more.
- I’m happy with my current level of flexibility, so I want to maintain it.
What am I doing about it?
- I’m going for a walk every day. Short, but daily, and increasing as I feel capable.
- I live in a house with stairs and I sometimes take the stairs at work.
- When I take the elevator, I balance on one foot while waiting for it.
- I continue to stretch and do yoga at home.
This doesn’t mean I think everyone has to exercise. Just that I find it helpful for my own energy and ability levels to focus on exercise.
*I have gained and lost weight in there — most of the gain was during a bout with depression, with a bit of help from Celexa. For me, exercising regularly tends to result in a 5 to 10lb weight loss. I also lost 30lbs on Atkins before I began regaining; final result was a net gain of 10lbs.