Exercise as Medicine
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Trigger warning: Discussion of weight loss and a video that includes weight loss talk.
I’ve noticed there are two kinds of people.
- There are people who are constantly active — they have trouble sitting still, they fidget (a lot), they need activity to function.
- And there are people who are perfectly fine with being still.
High energy people and low energy people.
I’m the second kind, which is how I know it has nothing to do with laziness. My brain thinks better when I’m still, as opposed to, say, my husband who thinks better when he’s moving. Activity requires planning and effort for me. It’s not something I feel compelled to do after a period of sitting for too long. I’m a writer, and I’m perfectly fine spending six or eight hours a day sitting in front of my computer.
But here’s the thing: immobility isn’t good for a person. It can lead to weight instability, muscle loss, and that whole host of problems we sometimes call “obesity-related.” Because I never, ever have an urge to get up and exercise, for my sanity, I treat exercise like a prescription. If, for some reason, I’m coming from an extended period of inactivity, I prescribe myself 10 minutes a day. That almost always leads to more than 10 minutes a day, and I increase until I’m exercising at least 30 minutes a day again.
Here’s a great video about how important exercise is:
I’m at that point right now. I went to a conference in Las Vegas at the end of June, and came home with the worst cold I’ve ever had. It’s taken me three weeks to feel human again. And because I’m that type of person who is perfectly fine being still, I’m going to have to prescribe myself exercise again. Because I know that just because sitting at my computer all day might work for me mentally, it’s not good for me physically. Three weeks isn’t long enough for me to have go all the way back to 10 minutes a day, but it is long enough for me to have gotten out of the habit of daily exercise.
So, back on the horse. I’m going for a swim today.
And I know that I’ll feel better for it. I know that I’ll improve my chances for avoiding disease that I don’t have a family history for, like diabetes and high blood pressure, and disease that I do have a family history for, like cancer. I know that by looking at exercise as medicine, I’ll increase my energy level — because remember, I’m a naturally low-energy person. I’ll reduce my fatigue. I’ll strengthen my bones and muscles. Judging from 30 years of history, I’ll probably not lose a ton of weight, but I’ll keep my weight stable so that I don’t gain more. My mood will be better, even my memory will be better.
One of the main messages in that video is that obesity and no exercise is a route toward health problems, and that if an obese person exercises, even if they don’t lose weight, they improve their health significantly.
I personally think that my life has been negatively impacted by years and years of equating exercise with weight loss to the point that when I didn’t lose significant weight during a time of increased exercise, it was very easy for me to go back to feeling happy being still. Changing my paradigm so that I see exercise as a prescription for increased health and a way to stem some of the damage that I’ve already done to my body, instead of only a way to look good, has changed the way I look at my whole life.
The doctor in the video asks if I can limit my sitting and sleeping to 23½ hours a day. The answer is yes. I can swim or walk my dog or dance around my living room or do yoga with Ruby or work in my yard or lift weights for half an hour a day. And I do (most of the time) because I want those benefits. Just like I want the benefits of brushing my teach twice a day or eating my leafy greens.