I started exercising regularly when I was 27. The ostensible reason was to help myself stop smoking. But the deeper reason was that I was ending a long, self-destructive relationship, and I knew at a gut level that my physical health and my psychic health were inextricably bound.
I became a runner -- not a jogger, which implies a leisurely pace -- and I was literally running for my life. At mile 2 of my daily run, I would pass a group of construction workers who would hoot at me. I would hold my rage until about mile 3 when I would stop and bellow at the top of my lungs. But one day after the men hooted, I ran across the road and began hollering back. They were shocked to see this little sweaty woman yelling at them. So was I.
I joined the local YMCA. In fact, I was the first, and for a while the only, woman to join. I went to a noon exercise class, usually led by an ex-Marine who believed that a move wasn't worth doing if it wasn't jerky and accompanied by staccato, grunting counts. I loved it. I became good buddies with some very kind men. I'm sure they never knew how important they were to me.
I started biking in the spring and would go on long rides on my 10-speed, sometimes far out of the city. Most of the time, I barely noticed where I was. I was only aware of movement; my mind and body and bicycle were united in one complete whirling motion. It was exalted, like the movement of the universe.
I'm writing this because it's the start of a new year, and I have a burning desire to help at least one person who's thinking about starting to exercise to actually do it.
Gregory Heath, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports that roughly one-third of Americans regularly exercise. About one-third have no interest in exercising at all. But the remaining third are "contemplators," that is, they recognize the benefits of exercising and want to change their habits, Heath said.
Heath said often these "contemplators" can be persuaded to start, especially if they have help in overcoming "barriers to exercise." Those barriers can be thinking that there's a "right" exercise, that you have to join an expensive gym, that you have to look like Xena or Hercules, or that you just don't have the time.
So let me convince you: None of these is true. You can do whatever exercise turns you on, wherever you choose to do it. Take it slow and easy and forget about how buffless your bod is. And you have the time: Give it to yourself. Go ahead. Just do it.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post news Service
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