Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Daily Obligation

This morning I got out for the first good walk I've been able to take in a couple of weeks, what with the sad weather we'd been experiencing and the not-very-walker-friendly environs of the Delaware hovel. I felt the long time since a workout. Pains that aren't usually quite so pronounced spoke up a bit more clearly. Breathing was a tad more labored. It is amazing how the human body is subject to entropy just like everything else in creation. If you're not working it with some regularity it'll just fall apart on you. The flip side is the miraculous difference a little activity can make in how you feel.

I am a product of the frumpy 50s. We Boomers (or almost Boomers) have witnessed a sea change in American attitudes towards physical fitness--when I was growing up, if somebody was seen running in the streets in their shorts they were either crazy or escaping a break-in. Oh, there were some exercise gurus making themselves heard--local DC TV had a show called "Inga's Angle" in the mornings. In 30 minutes, Inga showed housewives how to make a good pot roast for hubby, and then slipped into a pair of leotards and demonstrated calisthenics. And of course there was always Jack LaLanne in his jump suit. I confess even back then I found Jack much more, um, interesting to watch than Inga, but it wasn't thoughts of good health that he engendered.

Through elementary school, regimented exercise was something I just had to get through. Then came high school and gym class. I was terrible at all things "gym," and the taunting and bullying I received were remoreseless and incessant; my attitude towards any kind of organized exercise was least colored, if not altogether ruined, for life. It took a very long time for me to realize in an enlightened, self-interested way that exercise was good for me. It had something to do with the heavy smoking habit I had developed and an attempt to mitigate the damage I knew that was doing. I looked for things I could do on my own without the embarrassment of having witnesses. Remember the Canadian Air Force exercises? They were a series of calisthenics done in a certain order every day for 15 to 20 minutes, including push-ups and running in place. I did them for several years and really felt they did me good--but of course back then I still had the metabolism of a 30-year-old and couldn't have gained weight if I tried, so whatever cosmetic advantage I thought I was getting was purely imaginary. (And as for fitness: as soon as I was done with the exercises, I'd reward myself with a cigarette.) Real, outdoor exercise, in the form of these walks I take, really didn't enter my life until I hit my 40s, and my always slim "drink of water" physique started giving way to middle-age spread. I stopped smoking in 1984 and my metabolism went crazy. I started having to buy pants and shirts in sizes I'd never dreamed I'd find myself in. Vanity, thy name is gay man--although I swore to myself I was more interested in the health effects of exercise than the shallow cosmetic.

Whatever. I started walking the hills here in South Arlington and have kept it up more-or-less regularly (with a couple of admittedly lengthy hiatuses) for over 20 years. There is no question that I am in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, and, while it is not the complete answer to weight control, it certainly helps. And there's an ineffable result, too: I just feel good when I do it. That's priceless.

For a few years now, I've been thinking I need to work on my upper body and get some strength training in, but I can't bear the thought of paying hundreds of dollars for a trainer. I know I don't have to do that--all I really need is some hand-held dumbbells for my limited purposes, but so far I haven't pushed myself in that direction. Well, it took me 40 years to start what I'm doing now in earnest. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep it up, I'll have another 40 years to think about it! You think?

6 comments:

Cuidado said...

I've certainly learned recently that there is a huge backslide if you take a break. I am an avid hiker/walker and haven't been out much since December. I really feel the cardio difference since I've been getting out again. I know it won;t take long to build up again but i was surprised it backslided so much.

Ralph said...

And the "feeling better" part is so nice, isn't it Cuidado? Like a gift from life.

Ravel said...

I don't do sports, but walking is a must. Me & hubby go to walk with no aim in Montreal, founding ouselves walking several miles sometimes. Fun and good for legs and cardio... and mind, too.
Sunny and 15 degrees C today here. You imagine all the people in the streets? They walk...
Keep in shape, Ralph, we'll have fun sharing on the Net in our 80's!

Zoey & Me said...

I thought I was in good health and so did my doctors, even though high blood pressure set in when I was 55 by 58 the pains to my face, failure on a stress test led me to having a triple bypass operation. But it was a warning signal as I walk two miles every other day down at the local College, swim twice a week, and feel better than I did from ages 45 to 58. I was always sluggish and blaming it on getting older. Now I can run up and down a staircase and feel nothing. So maybe it's worth it, ask Larry King.

Ralph said...

Z&M, you're alive to do those things, so it was worth it. I'm lucky in the cholesterol department and unlucky in the blood pressure deparment, having inherited both from my father. My cholesterol is never anywhere near 200; my BP is now controlled at acceptable levels with meds. I had a stress test 2 years ago and came out clean. So I think I owe it to this decent basic material to keep it that way.

Ralph said...

Ravel, that'll be your 80s and my 100s. But I'm game!