Exercise and Modern Society

In the last few years I have not been taking care of myself.  Libby was often needing to go to treatment or a doctor’s appointment several times each week.  Adding one more trip seemed too much, so I just never got around to scheduling appointments with my doctor, dentist, etc. I wasn’t eating as well as I should. My backpacking trips drop to almost zero because I wasn’t comfortable leaving Libby for more than a day.  The only exercise I got was riding my bike to/from work.

I have known that I should be taking better care of myself. There is good evidence about how diet effects both the quality and quantity of life.  There has also been a lot of research into the effects of exercise. There is a fascinating screen cast about how 30 minutes of walking makes a big difference in people’s health. Click the link because it’s really interested, and for some people, I hope life changing. There is Growing Evidence of Links Between Exercise and Mental Acuity. There is also well documented evidence that exercise helps control both depression and anxiety. I have seen some of these effects in my own life. I find my mind sharper after I have exercised and I feel more ready to face the day. Several years ago I developed a habit of taking 1-2 days personal retreats when life seemed to be getting away from me. These retreats would be solo backpacking trips where I was walking 20+ miles each day. This is a fairly significant physical workout. Often times, solutions to problems I have been struggling with for weeks would jump into my mind as I was walking. Part of this was likely the solitude, but I think the physical activity played a part in this as well.

After Libby went home to her Lord, Helen made it very clear that I was to take care of myself because she had no desire to be an orphan. Her concern broke my heart and gave me the motivate to get serious.  I did a personal assessment and I realized I was in pretty poor shape. I decided I needed to visit my doctors and dentist, start eating better, lose some weight, and I really needed to get more exercise. I wanted to believe that my daily life provided me with enough exercise, but clearly it had not been working out. I hate the idea of exercise for exercise sake, but I have the need for some serious catch-up.

So, for the first time in my life, I joined a gym.  I met one of their trainers and got a basic assessment.  I was in even worse shape that I realized. I learned that my scale at home was under reporting my weight by eight pounds. It’s going to be some serious work to get to where I should be.  As I surveyed the instruments of torture contained within the gym’s walls I realized I didn’t have any idea how to use the machines, and certainly no idea how to design a workout to get back into shape. I decided to sign up for several sessions with a trainer so I wouldn’t break myself.  I suppose I could use some iPhone app like iMuscle or GAIN, or follow something simple like Vic Magary’s minimalist fitnesss guide, but having a human being who could watch what I was doing seemed like a good idea.
I have been going to the gym six days a week since the end of November.  The trainer has kept me pushing to my limits but not going so far that I break myself. There have been days that I am not sure that I could turn the steering wheel to drive the car home from the gym, or when I got home I wasn’t sure I could lift a glass filled with water to my mouth, but I was able to do these things.  I hope and pray that in several months I will be in reasonable enough shape that the gym won’t need to take up as much time and energy as it is right now. I can see progress: my heart no longer continues to race for tens of minutes after I stop exercising and I have dropped more than a percent of body fat. I have also noticed that I am feeling better, and it seems like it’s easier to concentrate. Maybe there is something to the healthy body / mind connection.
Enter curmudgeon model… seem to have been doing that a lot in these recent blogs:

When I was a kid I wasn’t into team sports, but I was active.  Yes, there was a lot of reading, building electronics, and hang out with friends, but I also walked or rode my bike as transportation, using manual tools to build things, climbed trees, and regularly went backpacking/climbing.  I wasn’t a jock, but I was fit.  Somehow all of those muscles are gone.  I suppose it was life getting more busy.  Well, that, and I dose of simple laziness. I also think a major contributor is that more and more life seems to be spent interacting with electronic devices rather than the real world.

This has gotten me thinking about exercise in modern society.  Many of my coworkers regularly go to the gym just as I am now.  We pay for the privilege to do hard work.  Often times, we are doing this in somewhat dark smelly places, even before the sun has come up. Some of us go beyond that and pay someone to push us further and harder than we think we can go. I find myself imagining in a conversation with one of the jews from Moses’ time.  I tell them what I am doing and they say:


אז תנו לי לקבל את זה מצר, אתה בוחר להיות עבד לאדון עבד במשך מספר שעות ביום.
אתה לא צריך לעשות את זה. אז אתה נותן כסף כדי לעשות לך את זה השתגעת

alright, maybe not that (any Hebrew I knew when I was 13 is completely gone), this was google translate attempt of going english -> hebrew from the text

So let me get this strait, you are choosing to be a slave to a slavemaster for several hours a day.  You don’t have to do this.  You are giving them money to do this to you?  Are you crazy?

There was a time than nearly everyone engaged in hard physical labor in the course of their daily lives. They didn’t have power tools, electric kitchen appliances, cars, etc. The day was spent moving.   Muscles got built from daily activities. People looked forward to when the hard labor would end, and they could rest. Often people dreams of jobs that didn’t require them to have to engage in such back breaking work.  These days, many of us spend our whole day of “work” sitting.  Maybe we get up and walk around the office a bit to talk with people.  Some people don’t bother doing this, Skype, Jabber, or AIM remove the need to move.  While we are sitting around our physical bodies are getting weaker and weaker.  When work is done can we enjoy our leisure?  Nope.  We now need to get through traffic (sitting in our cars) to get to a gym, where we pay for the freedom to exercise in the comfort of a gym.  Something seems a bit off here.

I find myself wondering how we can back to lives that are more integrated and don’t have us sitting around so much. There are things like the sit/stand desks, but that doesn’t see enough to me. I don’t have any great ideas. Maybe something will come to me, or maybe one of you have some ideas.  Care to share?

As for me, I am going to the gym for awhile. I have a Costco $319/2years membership to 24hour fitness.  The money has been spent, so I should take advantage of it, or it just goes to waste. If I had done a month to month membership it would have been easy to rationalizing quitting the gym after a couple of months “to save money”.  I have also resolved never to let myself get back into such an awful state but also not to let exercise get out of control. I have see many people who try to build strength beyond what is needed or their bodies could handle. Rather than getting healthier, they are limping around with injuries from their excercise. A good cautionary tale was just in the NYT about how yoga can wreck your body. Well, it’s off to the gym now for my next round of torture.

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