I am in Vermont this week, one of my favorite states in the country. I’m gonna eat cheese curds and paddle on Lake Champlain with my partner of 19+ years, Craig, and do a serious amount of relaxing, reading, hiking, and…..going to a gym? Yes. I even go to the gym on vacation, because I like going to the gym. And yes, I still like going to the gym on vacation even after that incident when a weight bench collapsed on my hand and I spent an afternoon in the Emergency Dept of the local hospital. (Remind me to show you my gnarly finger sometime – it’s the vacation memento that I’ll never lose!)
Here in the USA, we tend to treat fitness similarly to retirement – we’ll get around to it when we have time. Someday all the hard work will be over and we’ll now have time to devote to things that are Not Work, and our bodies will just have to wait for it to be prudent and sensible to stop focusing on chasing dollars (or attending to the needs of others and our domiciles). We have complicated feelings about our bodies at most times, and exercise/fitness is no exception.
Delayed gratification is one of our species’ greatest traits, but also one of our downfalls – we want to wait for pleasure when we get to Heaven, or when we retire, or on our annual vacation, or when we hit our 20th anniversary, or on the weekend…. Sound familiar?
But in this last year and a half of great suffering worldwide, when we’ve been given the understanding that things beyond our control can change our plans literally at any time, it’s not a bad idea to consider having a little bit of a leisure reward, right now. Don’t go whole-hog and quit your job, maybe. But give yourself at least *some* minutes each day just for you. That’s not overly indulgent, seriously. And it helps keep you in much better health.
When I first got diagnosed with cancer, I was 38 and in shock at how my life was not what I thought it was. And I felt like, ok, maybe this is the worst thing that’s going to happen – I have had my bad luck and now I know what it is. But then I was diagnosed with a second cancer 2 months later. The whole time I never took time out for myself, really. I was just reactive, in a state of fear, working at my stressful job as much as cancer treatment would allow me to do, and in hindsight that was not the right way to try and move on. I spent 12 years in that grind, pre- and post-cancer, and it inflicted all the damage that a ‘grind’ sounds like it will do.
When you think about going on your annual vacation all year – and then you finally get to go – what’s the reality of it? For many people, it’s a hectic, run-around-like-a-headless-chicken, hurried race to go, hopefully work doesn’t interfere while you’re away, you barely relax… and then you return to a backlog of work. You may feel your vacation mindset fizzling away like an ice cube on a hot sidewalk….you actually got into extra stress to go on vacation, and incurred additional stress by being away.
What if you did exercise this way? Again, many people actually do – they get hardly any exercise, followed by a weekend of running, lifting weights, 2-day hiking trip, beach volleyball games, and whammo. The stress placed on the body is enough for your body to say,”hey! no thanks!” which sets the stage for excessive muscle soreness and fatigue, and possible resentment at spending big chunks of your weekend on working out. You’ve made exercise something unpleasant, because your body couldn’t adapt to it. Exercise is not torture, and it’s not indulgence, anyway. It’s just…moving your body. And if you don’t do that regularly, you’re making it more difficult to move your body in bigger, more interesting ways when you want to, like on a vacation.
I was proud to learn that my mom (who has spent 20-30 minutes, several days a week, on improving her core strength and flexibility since the pandemic began) was able to do a difficult mountain hike at above 10,000 ft elevation. At 81, you can bet that you can’t just throw a few big workouts at yourself and hope to hit a goal like that. But if you work on your strength and flexibility a little every day, before you know it, you’ve racked up months and months of benefits.
So, how about trying 5-15 minutes of movement a day? It’s a tiny step. But tiny steps add up. Think about: a little more movement, a little less guilt, a little more fun, and a little less putting things off ‘til the future. Your body will appreciate it! Your brain will appreciate it. And you’ll move in the direction of Better a little bit more – you’ll nudge your own personal needle towards Better, every time you do it. And who doesn’t want Better?