4.12.2013

Body Movin'

This is my buddy Angus.
We're kindred spirits.
I am a sedentary individual. And I don't just mean that my job as a writer makes me that way. It's that I have never been particularly inclined toward a very active lifestyle. I admire people with physical prowess. Although I'm not big into team sports, I absolutely love watching dancers and ice skaters and gymnasts and athletes in general work their mojo. The human body, when finely tuned, can do some pretty great things and I'm forever in awe of its resilience when you put just a little bit of work into it.

But I have just never really developed a passion for athletic activity. Oh sure, I go through bouts of it. Actually quite obsessive ones. I'll spend a summer doing regular walks and hikes (anywhere from 2-5 miles...our last two years in Washington, I was on our local bike bath every day doing up to 7 miles, kids in tow). A couple years ago, I swam at least a mile a day for several months straight (until I injured my shoulder). I have a fascination with martial arts and have a couple years' worth of kickboxing under my belt, and would love to try other disciplines. I REALLY want to do some yoga.

But regardless of my glimmers and fascinations and downright torrid affairs with various forms of exercise, my passion eventually falls short. Like feast or famine, my desire to do it is gone almost as quickly as it starts. Often because I've overdone it and hurt myself, or because the seasons changed, or because I found some new excuse to stop exercising again. Either way, I've fallen way short of making it a major priority like I have the other things in my life that I truly love, like writing and reading and cooking and movies. Like my good friend Kate Jenkins said the other day as we discussed this, it's almost as if we have to continue to "rediscover" exercise after long periods of not doing it, and it's usually when we're driven back to it because our bodies have begun to fail us again after months of neglect.

Reaching athletic goals is exciting, though. When I swam my first mile a couple years ago, I wept. My record is a mile and three-quarters. A girl my size doesn't come to expect she will be able to achieve anything in that world populated by lean, beautifully-sculpted demigods, and yet I had found something I seemed to have a natural talent for and I realized that maybe this body of mine, with all its adipose and musculoskeletal burdens, can do some pretty awesome things after all. Maybe I shouldn't sell myself SO short.

Problem is, I have let myself go pretty badly in the last year or two. I haven't gained any additional weight on the scale (have even lost a few pounds), but I'm feeling the weight I do have more than ever. This has something to do with the fact that the last eighteen months have also been the ones where I've worked the hardest at my writing/publishing. Being a full-time writer and remaining active is difficult if you don't have a natural tendency to like exercise. But I've also come to realize how necessary it is. You can't work at this job and not take care of your body, or you will become the human equivalent of slime. Your muscles will atrophy from lack of use and bad keyboard-slumping posture. Your cholesterol and blood pressure will go up. Your overall general health, both mentally and physically, will suffer greatly. Because you're not just sitting around all day. You're often sitting around all day while eating crap food and drinking way too much caffeine and possibly partaking in other vices too because so much of your mind is devoted to The Story that you can't really concentrate on much else at the moment.

And because of that, I now feel weak, like an underfed kitten (though nothing about me looks even remotely underfed). We lived in a small ranch house for nearly three years, and when we moved into this townhouse (that has a set of seventeen stairs separating the two floors) in March, climbing up to bed every night was a bit of a challenge and it still is, though it's improved greatly after the first month. I'd also hurt my knee some months ago, and that made stair climbing even more challenging, but that too has improved with regular use. I realized, though, that the quad and hamstring and calf muscles I'd had for most of my life, that had carried me up and down countless of flights with little complaint, were suddenly gone. I'd never had problems with lower body strength, but now, all of a sudden, I'm walking like I'm eighty.

Not good.

But even knowing I needed to make some dire changes to my fitness level, the idea of heading back to a gym still filled me with dread. I just don't have it in me, either mentally or physically, for Herculean efforts. And I know how I am... once I "rediscover" exercise, nothing else really gets accomplished for a few months. That includes the writing career, and I can't afford to take any kind of sabbatical right this moment, not with the book coming out and other projects in the pipeline. But I have a busy promotion schedule on the horizon, where I will likely be traveling and attending book events and having to be up and around a lot, so getting that pep back into my step is absolutely essential.

I decided, though, that I needed to do a smaller undertaking (which is not really in my "go big or go home, bitches" repertoire), with small and sustainable efforts that will hopefully add up to bigger things over time.

Office gym: deployed
No, I didn't invest in a treadmill or an elliptical for my office. I didn't hire a trainer or join some workout classes. But I bought a little exercise peddler and a stability ball, and I dug my 5lb free weights out of my file cabinet drawer and I've been using them every day, with the help of some YouTube workout videos.

These are tools I can use IN my office without disturbing my work routine too much. I can sit on the ball while typing and strengthen myself that way. I can take fifteen minute breaks to do some crunches and other toning exercises. I can work out my arms and work my legs with the pedals. These three pieces of equipment represent about a $60 investment. I also have a jump rope in that bottom file drawer, but that will have to wait a bit. At any rate, THIS is something I can handle right now. This will help get me where I need to be so I can take the next step. My husband and I have been trying to take regular walks, especially on the weekends, and we've been courting the idea of trying a Couch to 5K when I've got my strength back up in a couple months.

But right now, baby steps. And my legs can certainly say, without a doubt, that baby steps are a hell of a lot better than no steps at all.