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Exercise: the good and the bad of it...as far as I'm concerned

I now and then wonder about why I do what I do. A good part of that speculation questions  the amount of  time and energy I invest in exercising.  I  ask myself, why bother? Where are the gains?

And it's true the promise of exercise -- so much promoted as a lifestyle essential   -- isn't really there. Our obsessions are seemingly fed by myths.

Will exercise help you lose weight?

No.

Will it improve your general  health and well being?

Yes -- but that's a perhaps 'yes'...so long as you 'exercise' properly.

If I do more exercise am I gonna be healthier?

Definitive answer: No. Volume doesn't decide these matters.

These above observations are the sort of conclusions coming out of more recent research into exercise and its effects on the human body. (See video below for over view of some of these). That 'exercise' is such a huge industry today cynically obscures this underlying physiological reality.

Assuming the above...I'd like to review what I do and assess it according to these criteria.


What I do is too much

Yep. I really don't have to exercise as much as I do do  -- that is, if I was you. That's what I'm telling myself anyway.

At one time during the distant past I ceased to consciously exercise and my health and mobility suffered terribly. I soon enough had to rely on a walking stick to get around. I thought this was just pathology doing its evil work, but the fact was that while I was gaining nothing self evident from 'consciously exercising' I was nonetheless, holding back the grosser impacts my chronic condition, Fibromyalgia, was having on my body.

So that's the heads up for exercise: not that you are gonna feel better, but that you won't feel worse.  That's a consequence which is extremely hard to get your head around.

Exercise -- of any amount -- is gonna be primarily preventative.

Now if I knew way back whenever what I know now I would have definitely always exercised and done much more of it.

"Of it"? Of what? What kind of exercise would I have been doing?

All exercises aren't equal of course and I had to apply myself to my own body's quirks.

So, let's assume , that after a hiatus I started off on a journey of recovery through exercise. Not that I'll get anywhere special but at least I won't be going backwards.

Walking

Walking is my core ever-so-conscious exercise routine. I try to do it daily -- and to help me do it regularly I rely on my pet dogs to force me out the door.

You want to 'exercise' but don't trust your ability to always do it?  Simple answer: get a dog...and walk it.

Dog walking is probably the best long term exercise strategy available to suburbanites and there is nothing like a dog to keep you doing it. When one dies you go get yourself another...then another as you adopt to the  pack life style.

As I began to  ramble further in my doggy routes I addedx trekking poles to my walking rig. These are  hiking sticks about the height of ski poles. As a walking tool they generate upper body activity and increase the aerobic quality of your exertion.

Today I neither walk with a stick nor with trekking poles  but they were a great means to an end. As  my distance increased and my confidence improved I embraced the 10,000 steps walking program and began to seriously notch  up some ks.

That was over 5 years ago....and today I'm still walking the dogs. On average I'm out most days , preferably in the evening and usually I walk those dogs for at least 5 km. No aids of any kind. While I used to listen to audio podcasts on my mp3 player  as I walked -- for maybe 40 plus minutes -- I now partake of the experience device free.

Just my legs and a dog leash.

My walking stick and trekking poles are now family heirlooms resting against the garage wall.

Swimming, well sort of anyway.

Another invention I pursued was to walk in the water. We had a round 3 metre wide pool  filled with water up to my chest and I'd get in and drag myself walking around and around for a couple of  kilometres or so such that I'd create this whirlpool. Lovely in the Summer heat at night. When it got cold   I even had a wet suit so that I could jump in and do the routine during the cooler months.

 Water aerobics like this  was useful  because I could often do it despite the way I may have been feeling as the water offered buoyancy and I had to carry less of my own body weight around.

But really a pool and all that may be kosher for the kids -- and we had sprogs -- it is, nonetheless, a bit ritualistic -- what with the special dis-robing, towelling off and such. It's not much of a challenge given the effort and hardware required.

So aqua-robics like this  is an exercise option I mark down. You can't do it all year. If you use public pools you need to  commute to them before you can get wet. And really, it didn't have much of an impact on my health. I could get a better 'workout' --  which ticked the same boxes -- staying dry by   walking the neighborhood with a pair of  trekking poles.

Scootering

If you walk, sooner or later you may wonder that maybe instead of walking you could begin to run. I had been a keen jogger in my past pre-illness existence and loved it. Since I used to run long distance,  I knew what running required of a human body.

I was much heavier than  my old jogging weight and I knew that running was all about pounding the pavement and ramming gravity down hard on the ankles and knee joints.  Running can also be an injury waiting to happen.

So I thought: no I'm not gonna run. I'd like to but back then I didn't.
Nonetheless, this year I began to run the soft surface of tidal flats where I live. Had a great time, running with the dogs for 5 km at a stretch.

But I stopped running because (a) injury set in despite all my care and (b) it interfered with the time I spent scootering. I was delighted that I could so quickly notch up 5 ks -- at my age and given my condition -- but what was the supposed gain that I couldn't reach more easily and with less threat of injury by another means?
Back then - concerned that my condition was deteriorating -- I thought I may be sentenced to an electric  mobility scooter soon enough, as here I was already dependent on walking with a cane. 

I didn't want to cycle as it was too hard to always push down on the peddles and mounting a bike with a leg over wasn't going to be an option.  

I then had an epiphany: why not push a scooter? 

My first scooter was a home built vehicle cannibalized by my neighbor from two BMX bicycles (pictured left).

Thus began my  scootering passion....I later got a kickbike and then supplemented that with my cute Mibo Folding Scooter.

What can I say? Kickbiking rocks.

Unlike standard peddle powered cycling, scootering is always a physical challenge as there isn't much in way of hardware to assist your travels. Two wheels and the rest is all your own work.

Easy to mount.  Easy to dismount. You can always -- as you will so often -- get off and walk.

And the 'work out' is top to toe. A kickbike doesn't just demand that the legs do all the work. It's all over cadence.

While I  relied on  my scooters to get around, it was when I consciously deployed them as part of my exercise regime that their utility soared. 

I realized that each morning I had a brief window in which my relentless pain and stiffness was yet to make up its mind as to how brutal it was gonna be that day. So opportunistically I'd get on the scooter and push it around the block, exploiting the window. First once, then two times around, then three...while I logged my efforts.

Today I do 14-8 kms on the kickbike on a morning scoot without turning a hair . My base distance is around 7 km and if I can I go further. Scoot out of town. Walk the tidal flats if the tide is out and scoot back in again. 

It is, aside from dog walking, my  core (hopefully daily) routine.

Some days I don't make it because I am indeed so far under the weather that walking itself isn't  an easy option, let alone scootering.

But there, you see: great workout/injury free and a transport plus.

Weight Lifting and HIIT

Walking and scootering is all very fine -- thought I -- but I didn't feel like my body was changing for the better. This is when I started going to a gym, got a personal trainer (weekly sessions) and started boxing.

Great experience it was too. I loved the society of it all and the way I was pushed to the max.

It cost a pretty penny  -- and I shelled out for it for a year or so. 

I'd love to go back to that gym -- Northside Boxing -- but I now live so far away  and am my own personal trainer. 

The gym experience taught me how to lift weights properly and how to box. And it was there that I fell in love with kettlebells.

It's here that some of the recent research begins to really matter.

While exercise won't take your weight off and while aerobic activities are a bit of a physical plus in way of cardio efficiency (and that's all), lifting heavy things is now thought to be much more useful than was  originally believed. Bone density, insulin resistance, muscle glycolysis ... are all greatly improved by following a weight training regimen. If you are diabetic (like me) or pre diabetic (like so many in the population at large, all unaware that they are) weight training is gonna be  one of  your best options so long as it is pursued  within HIIT protocols.

HIIT means High Intensity Interval Training and to get your share of that I think you really do need to do weight work  even if the weight you lift or pull is your own body.

I love the kettlebells but I also now use dumbbells.  The problem with weight training is that it can be  so darn boring and so exhausting. I mean it hurts, really hurts to generate all that required grunt.

But  it's what the gyms won't tell you that really matters: do the weight training less for shorter times for the same or better results. 

Chris Highcock's wonderful manual, HillFit  offers a great summary in its introductory essay about this wonderful logic -- so go read it. 

Chris's perspective is 5 minutes of HIIT exercise 2-3 times per week! 

So that's what I do:  but I alternate every second day (sort of) the HillFit regime lasting about 5 minutes with a kettlebell and dumbbell routine that requires 18 minutes to complete. I do the  exercises slowly --  very very slowly.

Injury free. Challenging. Exhausting. Painful. But over and done with soon enough. 
I think this every second day HIIT routine I follow is one of the best things I've ever done for my physical self. I'm mastering my stiffness and pain by pumping heaps of adrenalin and other relievers through my protesting body.

I only wish I knew this decades ago. 
Knew what? That you can exercise less for much greater gain so long as you worked hard at it when you do.
So if I was designing an exercise program for whoever this would be my numero uno. 

The KB or DB lifting is customisable; the HillFit is not. But you need to research the physiological rationale otherwise you miss the point of what you'd be doing.

Start with  Body by Science  by Doug McDuff and John Little...

Is that too much?

The reality is, as far as I'm concerned, I am indeed doing too much. The HIIT stuff should be an ample investment if I wanted to do good things for my health.

But I'm not gonna give up the kickbiking...because I love those morning scoots. I'm not gonna give up the dog walking because I love those evening walks.

In fact I've recently added  to this routine by once again hitting the bag boxing. I do this under HIIT protocols via a Tabata schedule which means I box  for less than 5 very painful minutes in staccato 20 second bursts.

While  I love boxing, I'm primarily doing this because I have learnt that intense burn workouts like  Tabata  pump my muscles  with analgesia concoctions and I appreciate all the long term pain relief I can get.  A session on the bag -- despite how short its duration -- will stay with me and my muscles all day.  

So every other day I'm now back punching the bag. 

In terms of the current research into HIIT you don't have to do what I do -- but if your are arthritic you learn to appreciate what works for you and for once, in my exercise journey, I can say that through HIIT I am logging tangible results.

I guess I'm one of those -- again according to research -- who are  exercise resistant.

I didn't see  results from a year of gym work with a personal trainer. I didn't see them in the pool, and I don't see similar tangible results from my walking of kickbiking. While most of my exercises are  deployed as  preventative measures, the conscious HIIT has  made me  into something a little different from what I was before I started it. And that's despite how little time it demands.

But there's more...

That's not the end of it either. There's more. I didn't begin Urban Soul Line Dancing  because I wanted 'to exercise' -- I began it because I wanted to dance and I  had reached a level of physical capacity such that I knew I could sustain  the challenges posed by stepping.

So my exercising prepared me, with my illness handicap, for my dancing.

However, I can dance on days even when I can't do this other stuff and that's a wonderful bonus.  I also find that dancing changes me physically  in a way that these other grunt routines do not.

I do however do a lot of dancing on a daily basis.

The more I practice the steps the more my body flexes especially along the spine and hips. The groove takes over. It has taken months for this to begin to happen. My body  is changing as it moves into Gene Kelly mode. My foot work is still tardy -- but maybe in time....?

Dancing has given me a way to become  more movement aware and I haven't had that going for me since way back when I was doing T'ai Chi ch'uan which is one of the best 'movement awareness' regimes on offer (as is Yoga, Feldenkrais, Pilates, etc).

So the irony is that while dancing is pursued as an exercise it isn't the standard criteria that actually may rule on its efficacy. It's impact is multi layered. 

If only I was dancing decades ago! ...and doing HIIT my life would be much better today.
ADDENDUM: What I haven't discussed --and won't but I will refer to it -- is  how exercise improves your cognitive and emotional existence.These are the subjective plusses that a routine offers. The sense of accomplishment. The excitement of physical challenges. The excuse to get out and about. The camaraderie of the dog pack.Sunsets. Sunrises. Sunshine.  Distances logged. Real pain from real physical effort and exertion. The joy you get when you finish the straining. The horror you feel when you begin...All these things keep your wonderfully attuned to yourself.


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