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Hit The Gym

April 2002

No one believes it, but yes, I work hard. No, I don’t get calloused fingers--it’s all mental labor. We can debate all day long whether it is really “work,” but the bottom line is, it is important for me and my family to sit in that chair and write each and every day.

[IMAGE] If it’s not already obvious to you, take it from me: sitting on your butt all day long is not good for your health. No matter how much energy the mind expends, and no matter how important it is to yourself and others to sit at that computer and produce, the body needs activity or everything else quickly goes to hell.

So exercise is important for those of us who sit on their ass for a living. Actually, exercise is important for everyone. Not so? Think athletes don’t have to exercise? They exercise harder than anyone--they have to. Think because you climb ladders or dig ditches for a living that you don’t need to exercise? I know plenty of porky construction workers with heart disease.

The problem is finding time to exercise. Yes, we all goof off during the day. Think it’s possible to take the time normally spent goofing off and do something else, like exercise? Doesn’t work that way. Goofing off is a lot more fun than exercising. As important as activity is to the human body and mind, goofing off is equally as important.

But, like most good things in life, too much of a good thing is bad.

Exercising is like any other form of work--you have to be motivated to do it. For most forms of work, like gainful employment in a capitalistic society, the motivation is clear--no labor, no money, no house, no food. Exercising is different. You can delude yourself into thinking you don’t need the exercise, or that something else is more important than exercising--like more work, or more goofing off. Exercise usually represents pain, and we as human beings seek to avoid pain and embrace pleasure. Humans can always justify the need for goofing off.

The trick is to find the reward in exercise. There are two types of rewards--those that increase pleasure, and those that decrease pain. I encourage you to find the rewards that create pleasure, but find the rewards anywhere you can.

In my case, my first motivating factor was my Dad’s angioplasty. My Dad is not a bragger, but one thing he enjoyed bragging about is doing well on stress tests. Last year, he flunked his stress test for the first time. They found blocked arteries. Seeing my Dad, my hero, lying in a hospital bed in one of those flimsy flowery gowns after he just had wires, balloons, and tubes shoved up into his heart through blood vessels in his groin is a definite motivating factor.

The second motivating factor was examining my own risk factors. I understood right away the odds are against me. My family medical history is like some kind of twisted Stephen King horror novel. Think of some kind of disease, and my family has had it. I soon broke my genetic code, and its message was simple: do something, now, or you’re screwed. I hammered it home with home blood sugar testers. Fix this, Brown. Do it, now.

Ask any doctor or nutritionist about what you can do to ward off disease, and they’ll start reciting the old mantra: diet and exercise, diet and exercise. Sorry to say this, but they’re right. And if you had to pick the one thing of the two that makes the most difference, guess which one it’ll be? You guessed it, the harder one: exercise.

If you have high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and are overweight, and if you didn’t change your lousy diet but started an exercise program, you will start to reverse your bad readings faster and more surely than if you changed your diet alone and did no exercise. Sorry to give you the bad news, but it’s true: you gotta exercise. No matter who you are or what you do, you must exercise.

I’m not a doctor--I don’t even play one on TV, yet. So this is not the scientific definition of exercise. Being a writer, I turn to the dictionary. The dictionary defines “exercise” in part as “bodily exertion.” “Exertion” is described as “vigorous action or effort.” That’s the key: vigorous bodily action or effort. This is what all of us must do on a regular basis to maintain good health.

Don’t delude yourself. Everything you do can be termed “exercise,” but in reality, it isn’t. Sure, you can race around the house like a madman dusting and vacuuming--it might be tiring and maybe even aerobic, but it’s not exercise. Sure, your heart rate increases picking up the kids to put them in bed, or sweeping out the garage, or having sex. No matter what some magazines or even some medical associations say, it’s not exercise.

Although it might be true that normal everyday activities might sometimes be thought of as “vigorous action,” or could be done to produce a more “vigorous” action, the key to exercise and the good it can do is doing something to work your body beyond what is required for normal everyday activities. If it normally takes 30 minutes to vacuum your house, and you strive to do it in 20 minutes and work your way down to 15 minutes; and if you did this 3 times a week, vacuuming the house could be exercise.

But most of us don’t vacuum the house like that. We do a couple rooms, then take a break; we do it in 35 minutes, or 40 minutes; we do it once a week. Sorry, Charlie, but vacuuming the house is not exercise.

Obviously, “vigorous bodily action or effort” is different for everyone. Walking up a flight of stairs might meet that definition for some; for others, running a 5K race might not even work up a sweat. Your body is the key to telling you what is exercise and what is not. If walking around the block is about all you can handle, then stop after one orbit.

The bottom line: you know what I mean by “exercise.” Whether you jog, walk, lift weights, do the punching bag, ski, bike, or do Tae Bo, the essential elements are obvious: you must take the time to do some vigorous bodily activity that stresses your muscles and the big important muscle, your heart, beyond what is required or necessary for normal function.

Next issue of SKYBIRD: Which exercises to do?

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