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The dreaded…EXERCISE

March 17, 2012


            I was eating healthfully for almost three months before I faced one of the biggest transformations.  I had been losing weight consistently but the notion of exercise was starting to creep into my head.  Each month when I met with Dr. Horsfeld he would encourage me to set the next goal.  Exercise was the next step.  I knew it but I put it off as long as possible.

            There is a poster in each of the weighting (oops, that should be “waiting” – Freudian typo!) rooms at Baylor Family Medical that lists off all the benefits of exercise.  I knew them all and could have come up with a list of at least 20 reasons why I should be exercising.  So why wasn’t I doing it?  Sam loves to exercise.  Even if he has a headache, in fact, sometimes when he has a headache, he will go to the gym because he knows it will make him feel better.  The only time I felt better at the gym was when I was walking out the door of the gym. 

            After some thinking, I had another of those life changing moments of realization.  The clarification came after a couple of months of ruminating over a conversation I had at my original visit to Baylor.    I remember telling Dr. Horsfeld that I could give him 100 excuses for why I was not eating well and exercising.  He said, “Don’t give me an excuse; Give me the real reason.”  What the hell was the real reason?  I would think of something then realize that it was another excuse.  This happened over and over again.  Ultimately, the “reason” was less important than the action plan that resulted.

            It goes something like this.  Everyone has different levels of tolerance and abilities.  What works for someone else may not work for me and visa-versa.  There isn’t one person I speak with that doesn’t list off the details of why this is hard for them or why that is hard for them.  Here it comes, my epiphany.  The “explanations” one gives are either an excuse or a reality.  Wow.  Ok, that may not sound profound but the implications are monumental.  If something is found to be just an excuse, then get rid of it.  It is not the real problem and it needs to be gone.  It is not valid or important.  However, if something is found to be a reality that cannot be changed or is so ingrained that it seems that it cannot be changed then you must DEAL with that reality OR admit that you will never reach your intended goal.

            I have an injury to my lower back.  That will not change.  I must deal with it, work around it, and find alternatives to further harming my back.  I hate exercise.  That may not be a hard fast fact but it sure feels like it.  If that is my reality then I must DEAL with it or admit that I will never be healthy again.  I will always be obese (not over-weight) and I will die at an early age.  I will probably not have a lot of time playing with potential grand-children and I won’t get to travel and enjoy years ahead with Sam.  Didn’t have to think a long time before I knew I did not want to resolve to that fate.  My best years are not behind me.

            So, how do I deal with the reality that I hate exercise?  Well, first I tried to think of the exercise that I hated least.  If I had to rank all types of exercise on a list, what types of activities would be towards the bottom of the list?  I thought of the recumbent bike I had used a few times at the gym.  It is a stationary bike but instead of having the pedals below your torso, they are stretched out in front of the body such that your sitting position is more like being in a recliner chair with the foot-rest up.  (Now that’s my kind of exercise.) 

The next step was to get consistent use of the recumbent bike.  The only ones I knew were at the gym.  Going to the gym was a whole other issue.  I did not want the details of getting to the gym to be the stopping point to exercising.  Going to the gym in order to exercise would build in too many potential hurdles and make it too easy to not go.  On the other hand, I had a long history of getting motivated to do something, buying all the necessary items and then fizzling out of motivation.  The treadmill standing in the corner of our bedroom can attest to that.  So my brilliant solution was to rent the equipment.

If I could find a way to rent the bike and I could have it right in the living room near the big TV.  I could wait to watch all the trash television shows that are my guilty pleasure.  I could even sit on the bike and slowly ride when I am watching tv in the evenings with Sam, something I usually only do with a project in my hands.  I went to the internet and found a company in Houston (actually, it’s the only one that rents) and set an appointment.  I went down and chose a bike from their selection.  I found one that felt good and one that would look good in my living room.  I got a simple carpet to place it upon and they delivered.  I could cancel the rental at any time if I was not using it.  If I exercised, it stayed.  If I did not, it goes.  The company allows you to take the rental payments and convert them into purchase payments within the first 90 days.  Sam and I spoke about it before the 3 months were up.  Economically it does not make sense to rent the bike for long term use.  In less than a year we would have paid.  However, Sam realized that the motivation to use it or lose it was working for me.  He preferred that we stay with the rental plan.  It would give us the ability to exchange the bike down the road if we wanted and it maintained the motivation incentive for me.

The first time I got on the bike, I went for about 15 minutes at setting level 2 and I thought I was going to pass out.  Success was not in the length of time on the bike or even the calories burned.  Success in the beginning was just consistently,  a minimum of 3-4 times a week, just getting my butt (literally) on the bike.  Each time I would try to go for 1 minute more than I had done the prior time.  It did not take long before I found that I was less and less conscious of the clock.  If I was watching a good show, I found that I could go for 45 minutes each time.  That was the amount of time it takes go get through one episode of Desperate Housewives if I fast forward through all the commercials.  I would try to focus next on increasing the tension level on the bike.  Eventually, I worked up to my day-after-thanksgiving record of 2 ½ hours at level 7.  Most days I go for 1 ½ hours or two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.  The goal is to exercise 3-4 times per week.

Progression is a remarkable thing.  I have taken so many life lessons away from this process.  Doing something consistently over time gives you the hindsight to see growth.  I don’t think I have done many things in my life that have illustrated this to me quite as clearly.  I see it also in my ability to chant Torah.  I tried to learn trope for 20 years.  It was several years ago that Cantor Renee Waghalter taught an adult trope class that used some visuals to help me learn what I was not learning auditorally. Once I had learned the system, Suzanne wisely stated that it is a skill that I must practice regularly or I will loose it.  I made the commitment to chant once-a-month. 

Every time I get a new portion and read it for the first time, I get panic stricken.  I can’t imaging how I will reach this insurmountable task in the time allotted.   Then as the weeks goes by and I look at it over and over again.  Five minutes here and five minutes there seems to be very effective for me.  Suddenly the portion that was first terrifying and foreign has now transformed into something familiar and comfortable.  After several years, I continue to chant regularly.  What began as once-a-month has evolved to as much as 3 times a month.  A week’s notice is sufficient and Shabbat morning no longer means I’ve self-induced myself to the point of a migraine from stressed.

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