There’s a reason for that. Stick with me. But first, this public service announcement …
Or not. I don’t need to present the evidence that exercise is important, that movement is good and inactivity is bad, that bodies are made to move and good exercise helps to keep them in working order as much as good food does. We all know this. But there’s something about the word “exercise” that puts it in the same category as “floss.” I feel resistance.
Twice a year, someone in a monogrammed white coat asks if I’m exercising. Twice a year, someone in scrubs asks whether I’m flossing. My answer is usually “Not as much as I’d like” to the first and “Not as much as you’d like” to the second.
I think that resistance is partly defensiveness, which in turn is a transparent protective covering over regret, or maybe even mild shame. It’s hard to gather the things for the pool and check “swim” off the calendar when I’m thinking about all those empty months I could have and didn’t. The bicycle’s rotting tires are more than circumstantial evidence that I’m not maintaining a thing that could help me maintain myself.
(It’s a little like writerly resistance, the kind that makes you push back from the desk on deadline because it’s suddenly crucial to know where you unpacked the stretchy bands—aha! on the curly hanger with the belts and scarves!—and to flex your mind with a few biceps curls. And then the kind that makes you sit back down and detour through Google under the guise of research, which leads to a joke that doesn’t even know it’s a joke, wrapped in an encouragement for strength training: “A successful workout or fitness plan incorporates exercises that help you increase your ability to overcome resistance.”)
I hadn’t thought of this before now, but here’s why I default to walking, biking and swimming for exercise: They’re all things I did as a kid. I was free-range, and I wasn’t chicken.
I walked to school, and to the store and post office on errands for mom. We walked in the evening after dinner. I spent hours exploring the wild hill that began across the street from us, riding my bike all over town, swimming and diving and playing at a park pool with friends in summer. No one called it exercise back then. It was simply living: play, exploring, independence. It was fun.
So my bike needs tires. (And that would be “good exercise sitting down.”) I moved away from a place with a pool, which I didn’t use much anyway; a long, steep staircase stood between us. (That would be “good exercise floating horizontally.”) But I have shoes, and the city has sidewalks.
There’s a lot to be said for walking. Here’s some of what’s been said. Before I add any more to it, I’ll just leave these here, put my shoes on and walk some errands in this morning’s gentle rain.
- Research shows that aerobic exercise can improve memory and thinking skills.
- Just this week, The Atlantic explains How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression.
- Brain Pickings highlights Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
- At Tweetspeak Poetry, LW Lindquist takes a walk with poet Wallace Stevens.
- Slate published a four-part series on why Americans don’t walk much any more and how we might turn that around.
- A walk at “the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in North America” leads to a list of ways people walk alongside each other.
We’re writing our way through a self-care series. You can find the list of prompts and publication dates here. Have something to say? Please join us. Simply drop a link to your blog in a comment on the corresponding post as long as comments remain open.