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Exercise as Medicine

July 21, 2014


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Fat HealthFat ScienceExerciseMy Boring-Ass LifeWeight LossDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of weight loss and a video that includes weight loss talk.

I’ve noticed there are two kinds of people.

  1. There are people who are constantly active — they have trouble sitting still, they fidget (a lot), they need activity to function.
  2. 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 Low Energyplanning 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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. JeninCanada permalink
    July 21, 2014 12:09 pm

    I really love the framing in this article of “I will” instead of “You should.” SO MUCH is written about exercise and eating in a certain way that’s meant to urge a person to action, and makes them feel crappy if they don’t act in those ways. Keeping it author-centered eliminates that judgement and allows the reader to simply read without feeling like they NEED TO DO SOMETHING.

  2. lifeonfats permalink
    July 21, 2014 6:24 pm

    If the health community would treat exercise as something that’s beneficial and is good even if weight loss isn’t a result, I’m sure more able-bodied people of any size would embrace it. It also helps if any physical activity is considered exercise, just not working out a gym, going to a class, running and/or walking. And then there are those who have physically demanding jobs—-I wouldn’t tell someone that lifts heavy things, are on their feet all day handling patients or working outside digging and building they aren’t exercising—they are, and probably getting a lot more done than the average person.

    • July 27, 2014 12:51 am

      I always gave up on exercise before I stopped making weight loss the goal. This time I’ve been exercising approximately 4 days a week (not counting all the walking my job forces me to do) for the past 2 years.

  3. Stacy permalink
    July 21, 2014 9:39 pm

    Could you please add Weight Loss or Weight Loss Talk to the tags? The weight loss talk in this as well as the video has some potentially triggering effects and it would be good to add them as tags.

    • July 21, 2014 9:49 pm

      Hi Stacy,
      I’m so sorry. That was my fault. I have no idea what I was thinking. I didn’t watch the video, so I didn’t realize it was in there. And for some reason, I did not register the segment toward the end as weight loss talk while I was proofing. I have added the tags and trigger warning and updated.

      On a side note, this is the first time in 4.5 years that I’ve ever screwed up tags, at least that I’m aware of. In fact, the tagging TW system has become so rote to my daily schedule that I don’t really think of the tagging system in the way it was intended (as a way to navigate difficult subjects), but as a way to catalog posts by subject. And I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone comment on it, so it’s just been this background system. Your comment was a much-needed reminder of why I created the rating system from the very beginning and how some people really rely on that trustworthy navigation.

      Thank you for pointing it out. I’ll try not to fall asleep at the switch again.


      • Stacy permalink
        July 22, 2014 9:12 pm

        Thank you, Shannon. I really appreciate your looking out for your readers and helping us to remain sane and healthy (oy, the importance of mental health 🙂 ). It’s the first time I’ve noticed that the tags for potentially triggering subjects weren’t there, so yeah, your nearly 5 years of excellent moderating has paid off! 🙂

        Thanks again, Shannon. It’s much appreciated.

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