So you know what I mean? Can’t open any magazine, blog, newspaper, social media without being bombarded by how great exercise is for you. Nauseating right?
Full disclosure: I wear a Fitbit (Blaze) permanently, run every day, walk whenever I can. I’ve drunk fulsomely of the Kool-Aid. But that doesn’t make me right. Nor does it mean that I am totally oblivious to some of the siren-song fallacies in the exercise propaganda canon.
Here’s the issue; do I really need to run 3 times a week to get all the goodies I’m promised by the exercise promoters? Could I walk 3 times a week instead? How about just moving more? Maybe do some heavy housework and gardening instead. Would that be better for me?
I’ve been running for some 25 years. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, you’re going to injure yourself, sometimes often, sometimes even permanently. You know, your knees give out, maybe your hips too, your hamstrings, glutes and so on. In my experience probably of all people who start to do vigorous exercise about 75% are going to injure themselves permanently in some way or form, starting with their knees.
That’s why I think it’s so utterly irresponsible for the exercise promoters to promote interval training; that’s when you vary between intensive and normal workout effort. I’ve been there and I can assure you that as you get past your 40s, most people are going to injure themselves very badly doing that.
So what’s the alternative? Let’s think about cave men and women. Did they run for exercise? Hmmm, to the best of my knowledge we have never found any Nikes in paleolithic caves, nor running tracks, not even any Fitbits no matter how ubiquitous they’ve become. If you were a cave man you certainly had a lot of movement and walking trying to find your next meal, often fruitlessly. So they got plenty of activity and certainly weren’t obese. Cave men got by (or not in many if not most cases) but they didn’t need exercise to perform at their best.
Now here’s another little quiz. Does your local handyman run? The guys doing the new roof in your street? How about the plumber? Or for that matter anyone driving an F150? People who work with their hands and bodies are so exhausted by the end of the day they don’t want to do exercise even if they even had time to do it, which they don’t coz they’re too busy earning their bread to worry about such upper-class froo-froos.
In other words, exercise is a middle-class thing, for the relatively high earners. The people who don’t exercise are (were) cave men, plumbers. F150 drivers and, natch, Trump supporters. Clearly there’s a class divide going on here. You exercise because your sedentary high-paying, degree-requiring job doesn’t give you a chance to move actively throughout the day. The upper classes exercise to compensate, the lower classes (well kind of) don’t need to since they’re already moving actively in most of their jobs.
This raises another issue of course. If I’m a lifelong Democrat with a high paying job on Wall Street where I sit down for 14 hours a day, and then go the gym for an hour every week, does that exercise make up for my otherwise slothful, couch-potato existence?
Here’s a random guess: nope. It might help your conscience a lot and your blood flow a little but the lack of activity for the vast majority of the time during most of your worthless existence means your body is doing nothing and so tells its metabolism to chill out except in cases of dire need. It’s just getting used to the fact that it only needs to briefly get out of its terminal lethargy for a few minutes every week. Then it goes back to sleep, metaphorically at least.
In other words, very occasional exercise is an attempt to trick your body into thinking it’s actually doing the really sweaty McCoy. Of course, it knows better.
But the exercise propagandists don’t talk about that little part. The part that says becoming fit is not about short and token periods of semi-intensive exercise followed by days or even weeks of lethargy. The scientists who study this are themselves all PhDs with a middle-class background who’ve never wrestled with a wrench on a rusty pipe or put a new roof on a house in their lives. And they have no need of a red-blooded F150. A Volvo or a Prius suits their value-system much more fashionably. So they don’t know because they’re in their ivory tower working with mice on treadmills.
So where is this all leading to? Well I’m not saying exercise is necessarily bad for you. But often it is. However you’ll only find out when your knees give out or you have a heart attack (a la Jim Fix).
I’m even in favor of some exercise while acknowledging that I’m doing way too much and I’ll probably die regretting it. But if you want to do things properly its gotta be not just weekly, or even daily, but several times a day. And it doesn’t need to mean running. Just a few little walks a day will do.
Movement is the message.
Here’s the thing. Whether you do exercise of not, you need to keep active, as constantly as you possibly can for as much of every day as you can. Every time you’re inactive you’re speeding up the dying process and your telomeres are becoming inexorably shorter. As long as you are pretty active you can keep these demons at bay for whatever period is humanly possible and necessary.
What does that mean in practice? Here are suggestions:
- Park your car as far as possible from the shops when you go there, preferably a half-mile so you walk a mile going to and from.
- Do your own housework – that’s a fabulous thing for you coz you are exercising everything but you won’t get a heart attack doing it.
- Take up gardening.
- Mow your lawn with an old-fashioned manual, or at least a lawn-mower you don’t sit on.
- When you’re on a long telephone call at work, use your cell and do a 2-3 mile walk.
- Quit eating lunch and go for a 3 mile walk instead.
- If you’re into clothing and fashion, go often to the big department stores and walk around them with your family – you can get a couple of miles on the clock that way.
- Take stairs, not elevator or escalator
- Don’t sit down in airline or any other waiting area, walk around
- Don’t use a shopping cart, use a bag when shopping
If, after all this sturm and drang you still want to do some exercise, even, God forbid, some running, be my guest. But don’t feel obliged. The trick here is as much constant movement as possible, as much of the time as possible.
Exercise is just the non-essential icing on the cake, as long as your body doesn’t give up on you.
And no Fitbit step-counts to depress and shame you, to boot.