“Dear Ms. Gray: After reading your article, ‘Setbacks to stepping stones,’ I am concerned that your fitness obsession is a cry for help. I think that you may be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. The good news is there are medications that can help. If you are willing, I am available for counseling and prescriptive services.” – A devoted reader
I love my readers! But keep that prescription pad in your pocket until you hear me out. I have thought this through. And from where I sit (doing leg lifts) the benefits of my active lifestyle far outweigh the advantages of my becoming a ten-toed couch sloth.
You are correct, I am a bit compulsive about exercising. But thanks to regular workouts, I no longer live in a constant state of stress. I have never experienced an exercise high, but movement makes me a more happy and optimistic person. It is when I don’t work out that the neuroses set in. When my body gets the cardio and strength training it needs, I feel as if I have the heart of a lion. When my body doesn’t get enough challenge, that lion becomes a lamb. And not a frolicking, self-satisfied little sheep of the sleep-inducing variety; but an anxious, skittish ewe who counts grievances and chews bitter grass.
Working out also makes me abundantly productive and creative. When a heart constantly idles at fifty percent or less of its capacity, life moves to the beat of a slow metronome. But when a heart is made to work – for an appropriate period of time – in its aerobic, anaerobic or even its VO2 max zone, you turn up the tempo on life. A little speed work and you’ll discover that your other daily tasks are completed to an allegro beat.
Though testing is sparse, studies that do exist agree that aerobic exercise (70% – 80% of heart rate reserve) boosts creativity both immediately following exercise and for several hours afterward. That fact alone is an argument for every employer to offer mid-shift workouts. Whenever my mind meets an obstacle between itself and the answer to a problem, I let exercise solve it. After 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity, the perfect solution always seems to drop into my mind without effort, without stress and without time wasted trying to force a resolution.
I have a friend who – every so often – says, “Dude, let’s go do something to totally wreck ourselves.” Whenever she says that I get a smile that doesn’t fade because I know we’ll soon be on an adventure that will test our physical and mental systems. When we return home to our families, we do so with an increased appreciation of all that we have as well as a resolve to invest ourselves one hundred percent in our lives. If I didn’t keep myself in adequate shape, these sojourns would be off the table. I would miss out on the fun, the shift in perspective that allows us to sort the essential from the trivial and the confidence gained from personal mastery.
Confidence itself is a big part of why I work out. I believe that each time we demure from a healthy challenge, our worlds get a little smaller. If my fear of heights keeps me from parasailing today, how long will it be until it keeps me from buying tickets in the upper decks at a game? Aging claims our faculties without our permission. Exercise that gently pushes what we believe our bodies are capable of is one of our only means of fighting back. Why not keep your world opening up with exercise rather than shutting down without it? Why not live the highs your current physical conditioning allows rather than bemoan the days when more was possible?
This leads me to personal responsibility, one of the biggest reasons that I work out. Every time my functional strength improves, I feel gratitude that I will likely be able to live independently longer. Building and maintaining functional strength means more years of lifting my own groceries, getting in and out of the bathtub and living the independent lifestyle that defines me for as long as possible.
My fitness journey will never lead me to pro athlete salaries or sports endorsement deals. But if the work I have already done has made me feel this good, I cannot help but wonder how much better I will feel if I continue to pour myself into this…or how much stronger and faster I will become.
So dear reader, to your kind offer of medication, I must say, no thank you. I am quite content with my current dosage of exercise. As to the obsessive quality of my working out, I appreciate your concern. I guess the only argument I can offer in my defense is that we are all hooked on something. I am just happy that my chosen habit is healthful.
After my last column, I also heard from many folks curious to know if I did indeed run a half-marathon four days after my laser surgery. I am happy to tell you that the answer is yes. I listened to my friends, made a race day plan and stuck to it. Luckily, my legs did not object and I achieved a new personal milestone…I ran every step of the 13.1 miles. Many good runners combine running and walking in race situations. But I am thrilled that I finally defeated the mental block that would not let me run a single step beyond 10 miles.