The Trouble with Exercise

The Trouble with Exercise

My husband Gareth is on a mission. Strangely, his quest doesn’t involve self-improvement – mental, physical or spiritual. His goal, something he has been pursuing without success for the past seven years, is for me to return to the level of fitness I enjoyed when we lived in California.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: typical male, they all want their women to look their best, which will then increase the likelihood of them wearing sexy negligees and breaking out the bikini in the summer. No (well, probably, but not the main reason), strangely, he is convinced that if I don’t get fit again, I’m going to come down with some dreaded disease that will prematurely end my time on the planet. And if that were to happen, Gareth would apparently be unhappy about it, which I admit is sweet (not the thinking I’m going to die bit, but his resulting unhappiness).

His most recent strategy was to book me in for BUPA’s Advanced Health Assessment, the purpose of which was to shock me into action. I had never done a health check of any kind, let alone an advanced one, so I agreed. On appointment day, which started minus my usual double cappuccino (required for the test), I was first weighed, measured, poked and prodded. Next, I was hooked up to electrodes and a breathing mask and asked to cycle at different speeds while the monitors monitored. Then the doctor answered my questions about this mole or that ache or whatever I could think to chat with her about. Finally, I was given a mammogram. Four hours later, I drove home exhausted.

The results were interesting. Even though I’ve struggled to get into a consistent exercise routine ever since moving to the UK, all the test results indicated a low likelihood of getting a dreaded disease. Plus, in spite of eating 10-12 eggs a week, my cholesterol was 3.8. For the Americans reading this, anything below 5.0 is considered good and many Brits are above this number. My one problem concerns my percentage of fat to muscle. Although my weight is fine, rather than falling somewhere between 22 and 28 percent body fat, I’m at 30.5. Yes, I know, not a huge difference but not what I wanted to hear. And as Gareth is gleefully aware, it’s to do with lack of muscle, which is of course to do with lack of exercise. So now we come to the age-old question: how does someone make consistent exercise a life-long habit?

I’m not an exercise-hater, so I’ve been trying to figure out why my exercise levels have fluctuated throughout my life. The biggest barrier seems to be time, followed by not making exercise a priority.

Running is my favorite activity, and I find that putting in an hour on the treadmill along with doing a little core work and weights at least three times a week is really all I need to do to maintain a minimum level of fitness. “Only three times a week?” you say. “What’s the problem?” Well, by the time I get changed, get to the gym, work out and return home, there’s two hours gone from my day. And to commit to six hours a week, every week, is quite a struggle. Plus I exercise best in the mornings, so if I have an early meeting scheduled, I can’t fit the two hours in beforehand without screwing up my sleep by getting up at 4 a.m.

By contrast, I always manage to find time to eat each day, but if I don’t, my body punishes me by growling incessantly or making me feel nauseous. It would be great if I suddenly felt lousy from lack of exercise, but the truth is – I don’t. Now if I compare my general well-being when I’m fit to when I’m not, there most definitely is a difference, but I don’t suddenly feel like puking if I miss a workout.

So what’s the solution? The truth is that, for the most part, if I could raise the importance of exercise in my life, I could manage to get those three workouts in. It’s simply that, once a little unexpected wrench gets thrown into my daily plan, I mentally shrug and say: “Oh well, I missed another one – no big deal.”

So off I went in search of an article that would help me consistently put exercise at the top of my list, and I found a good one by called Why Make Exercise a Priority? In addition to being less likely to die of dreaded diseases (as the vast majority of pro-exercise sites suggest), there are a number of more practical reasons to exercise:

1) Stress/anxiety reduction – this is another one that is often sited and worth thinking about.

2) More energy for fun – tricky because the first couple of months getting back into exercise tends to wear you out. There is a point, however, when you begin to feel perkier.

3) Makes you less prone to sickness – I can only take their word for it, though it makes sense.

4) Successful people exercise – I’ve heard this one a few times, and I’m sure I can find as many successful non-exercisers as exercisers, so not convinced there’s a clear connection. There are successful (extremely busy) people who work out regularly though, so why can’t I?

5) Your mind gets sharper – it does seem logical that your brain benefits as much as the rest of your organs, and I guess a sharp mind writes better books than a dull one, so I’m all for it.

Setting aside Gareth’s fears of my untimely demise, for me, it all comes down to enjoyment: if you believe your overall health enables you to maximize the enjoyment in your life, then you should make exercise a priority. And if you can find an exercise that’s fun as well, you’re two for two.

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