I am just back from a nice one hour run and have been thinking about how and when it became a necessity for us to exercise with purpose. Today we take the notion of exercise as given, it is true: we are advised to exercise by our doctors; have our TV blasting programmes about the virtues of exercise; tell our-selves we don’t exercise enough; and I don’t know about you but I regularly remind my husband that he should exercise more. But was it always like that?
‘This is basic; we need to exercise to get fit.’ – you may think.
Okay, let me ask you this: did you ever hear your grandparents say ‘I am going to the gym to do some exercise.’?
If you are over 25 years old the answer is probably ‘no’.
I certainly never heard my grandparents discussing exercise. God knows they moved a lot: my grandparents were born either towards the end of the nineteenth or at the beginning of the twentieth century. When you have a family tradition of having children later in life, you can span two centuries.
One pair of grandparents I don’t remember at all; they passed away before I was even born. But my paternal grandparents I do remember and they raised me between the ages of three and six; so I know how they lived and that ‘exercise’ wasn’t even part of their vocabulary.
Because they had to move all the time! They had no car so they walked; they had no washing machine so my grandmother used to wash all clothes by hand; she hand-washed the dishes. Apart from that they had a farm – most of what they ate was grown on the farm, picked, canned and cooked.
How many press ups do you think doing the washing by hand is worth? I am guessing a lot.
The life of my parents’ generation had changed somewhat: they still didn’t have a car (out of choice) but there was public transport; my mum had a semi-automatic washing machine but it still needed effort since one had to rinse the washing manually; and of course my parents walked to the shops and had jobs that had them moving as well. When my mum came back from work she wanted to put her feet up, not to go out for a run.
Life until mid-twentieth century was energetic and physical. Children ran out all day long, adults worked and moved to survive and to keep their families. Since exercise was part of their life people didn’t need to confine exercise to specific time and location.
Fast forward a bit and we get to the life style today. We move much less and we eat much more. We drive the 200 meters to the corner shop to buy sweets, crisps and drink. Instead of going for a walk, we sit in front of the TV; instead of doing sports we watch on TV how others compete. We, and our children, spend hours playing computer games. Overwhelmingly our jobs are becoming sedentary – we work in cubicles, staring at screens and don’t even walk 100 meters a day.
This is why we need to exercise. We need to exercise with purpose because our lives have changed dramatically and moved away from what I call ‘the manual of nature’. We don’t need to move to keep alive and safe; so we have to move in addition to our lives.
This is pretty much my life and has been for a long time now. Today, for instance, I:
- Got up and spent about 45 minutes sitting at my desk; I was changing little things about the Rotund Writer but this is beyond the point. I sit at my desk every morning and if anything today my writing/fiddling/checking out stuff stint was shorter than usual.
- After that I had breakfast.
- Did a bit of the packing for my trip I still had to do.
- All the other stuff I do in the morning like take a shower etc.
- Got in the car and went to the Airport.
- Spent 1 hour and 30 minutes on a plane.
- Spent 30 minutes on a train.
- Watched a programme about very fat people slimming down; we are talking enormous.
- Now I am sitting on the bed writing.
You see, even on a day that is more active than my normal routine (write at desk, drive to work, sit at desk, drive back home, cook, sit at desk) I have probably walked about 30 minutes in total. Not enough! Even by the modest recommended level of exercise today (2 hours and 30 minutes per week) this is pitiful.
This is why exercise is one of the three parts of the Rotund Writer Challenge. Yes, I would like to run the Comrades in two years but the main thing is to make exercise and physical activity a part of my life; just like writing.
Today, the Rotund Writer is in Lund, Sweden. Not perfect weather: it is raining and the temperature is dropping. But I had great time discovering the city (it is a bit small) and enjoying the local park. Everyone there was running faster than me but I’ll tell you about this some other time.
How sedentary is your life?