I’ve been running now for about 15 years. I started with an aim to run 6km (that goal had more on-agains, off-agains than Jennifer Aniston). Then I was then swept up with a running group and found myself running 10km. That nurturing (?) group talked me into a half marathon. Then, literally on the homeward journey from that event, my esteemed running colleagues were convincing me to run a full marathon (it’s not unlike the pressure you get from people to start having a baby after your wedding, and then straight after the birth of your first child, the “so when is the next one?” questions). On Sunday I completed my 7th marathon (and for those many many people that surprisingly, are unaware of how far a marathon is: it’s 42.195km). As my relationship with running grew, I simultaneously moved from a gym-floor supervisor, to a circuit class instructor, then I started teaching a class with a reputation for being tough – RPM (more commonly known as “spin”), then onto the flavour of the month: high intensity interval training.
For the last 15 years, the more intense end of exercise has become my norm.
Despite the narcissistic intro, this post isn’t about me.
In fact it’s about everyone else. It’s about you. It’s about exercise that other people do and the exercise that you should do.
In my little bubble of a world, people do crazy things – they get up at what often seems like the middle of the night to take on massive physical tasks before most people have even kicked off the doona. In my world, doing more than 1 hour of exercise a day isn’t extreme or obsessive it is quite literally, all in a day’s work.
But recently, I’ve met some people who are almost alien to me. I chatted to a woman a few weeks ago who wanted to add a little exercise into her lifestyle. I asked her what she did at the moment. She shrugged her shoulders, sighed a little and said “oh well, there’s heaps of stairs at work. I walk up them a dozen times a day.” Then I asked her what she would like to be doing. “I guess maybe a Pilates class once a week.” Pilates. Once a week. Are you friggen kidding me?
Once I had picked my jaw up off the floor, I sat with what she had told me. I pondered it. For weeks.
During those weeks, while I still processed stair climbing and Pilates, I had a chat with a very close friend, who also said she should add some exercise into her lifestyle. She commented that she doesn’t particularly like exercise (in her words: “I’d just rather curl up with a good book.”). When I asked her what exercise she imagined doing, she said “I think I would probably like to walk a few times a week.” Walk. No running? No 6kms? No marathons? No high intensity classes? Just walking.
The perception of what exercise is for these two ladies, zipped me into an alternate world; a world where more is not necessarily better; a world where extreme is not necessarily Godly; a world where it is totally ok to just do something.
Coincidently, around the same time I came across an article in my physiotherapist’s (case in point) waiting room. The article printed in Sport Health (Volume 32, Issue 3, 2014) was titled “Should we take the S out of SEM?” (In layman’s terms: should we take SPORT out of Sports and Exercise Medicine).
The author (illusively referred to as “Dr J”) defines sport as something of a competitive nature – whether you are competing against other people or competing against yourself.
He explains that sport, in this sense, is often high performance and as such increases the risk of injury. Dr J also points out that high performance sport is not entirely conducive to good health. He refers to a study that indicates the health of those people participating in light to moderate exercise is better overall than that of elite athletes.
Even though my motivation for exercise 2 decades ago was for good health, now it is just a way of life and ultimately something I love (most of the time… sometimes at 4:50am that love is a little worse for wear). And, admittedly I feel like I am in a rat race that is kind of hard to get out of and, at the moment, I don’t really want to.
But, to my two women who want to do Pilates once a week or walk every few days: I bow with tight hamstrings and I take my sweaty running cap off to you.
You’ve ignored the pressure to do more. You’ve ignored the pressure to physically push your body to the limits. You are conscientious about your health and appreciate that a little bit of exercise is probably a good thing. You’re likely to be healthy. You’re unlikely to put yourself at risk of injury. And you’ll probably get more sleep and enjoy reading plenty of books.
To anyone thinking of starting or increasing your exercise, this isn’t an all or nothing gig. Find what works for you and your lifestyle. Find the level that suits you. If you want to consider walking up the stairs at work as your exercise for the day, ignore my initial arrogant judgement and stair climb away. If walking every few days clears your head, gets air in your lungs and keep you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy, then that is totally exercise worthy.
Meanwhile, with a tinge of new-found jealousy in my heart, I’ll grapple with the pressure of when and what my next exercise-baby will be.
(And then maybe one day, I’ll leave it all behind and join a book club).