A recent "good health" issue of a magazine made me write this blog, so blame them. They had readers submit their exercise and other "good health" related questions so "experts" could provide answers. And one letter in particular caught my attention because it was one I could have written myself. Unfortunately, the answer was frankly irresponsible.
So I decided maybe it was time to provide a responsible response even if I'm the only person who sees it. At least it will make me feel better.
The letter was from a reader who had a question about exercise. She had an exercise routine, but it was exhausting her, and she wondered if she would gain weight if she cut it down to something that didn't leave her so exhausted. The magazine answered that not only should she not cut down, but she should step it up.
Step it up? What? Are you crazy? Can you spell "lawsuit?"
Are you trying to kill her or those around her?
At a minimum, I expected the response to be that the woman should see her doctor. I literally could not believe how callous, flippant and irresponsible the reply was.
I've been in the letter-writer's shoes. Let me tell you my story, right after I point out some obvious fallacies with the whole exercise myth.
While it's true that everyone needs to be active, it's also true that if you're hoping "exercise" will stave off death, well, you're wrong. You will die. Everyone dies and if you don't die from a heart attack or stroke, it's likely that cancer or one of any number of diseases will get you. Get over it.
The next myth is that with enough exercise, you can eat whatever you want. Why yes, it will, for a little while. Then you're going to get caught in a loop. If you wish to continue eating the same quantity as you age, you're going to have to step up your exercise routine, just like the magazine said. You can start with 20 min. but that soon becomes one hour. Then two hours. Then three hours. Then...well, at what point do you realize that you're exercising 24 hours a day and have to cut back because you actually need a real job? Or life? Or at least one hour of sleep?
It's ridiculous. In fact, I would argue that "exercise," as opposed to leading an active life, is ridiculous. You can't keep "stepping it up". At some point, you have to realize a couple of things: you're going to gain weight as you get older or you're going to have to eat less over time (reducing your supper/dinner/last meal of the day is a really good way) if you want to stay thin. Although, frankly, I prefer pleasingly plump to starving thin. But that's just me.
Anyway, I'd now like to talk about my story as a case study showing why that magazine's response was so irresponsible.
Twenty years ago, I decided to lose at least 10 lbs. I started an exercise routine.
It was exhausting, but I figured it would get easier as time went on. I lost the 10 lbs and then some, but I was also eating virtually no dinner. An average dinner consisted of a single cob of corn or a small "appetizer-sized" salad.
I recently looked at a picture from those days and I looked like a stressed-out prisoner on low-rations, but whatever. I was thinner than I'd ever been since middle school. I felt awful, but according to society, I was doing all the right things.
My days were spent in an exhausted daze. I had to stand during business meetings because if I sat down, I fell asleep. I couldn't watch TV at all or go to the movies because I fell asleep. I couldn't hold a conversation with anyone unless I was standing. I didn't have more energy as exercise enthusiasts claim, I had less. Each day was a struggle. My life was a complete misery. Everything was an effort because I didn't have an ounce of energy for even the simplest thing. I just gritted my teeth and told myself that life was meant to be hard and you just had to deal with it.
Most days, when I finished exercising, I collapsed, red-faced and sweating on the floor. After a few minutes, I'd stumble into the bathroom and collapse again in a trembling heap. Some days it was so bad, I'd literally vomit. Then I'd drag myself into the shower and struggle to get to work on time. I drank coffee to try to stay awake. I could not sit because if I did, I fell asleep. I'd stand up every five minutes at my desk just to keep going.
However, since I took a train to work, at least that was okay because if I fell asleep, I didn't endanger anyone.
Five years into it, I was preparing to get married and as I went in for my gown fittings, I noticed I was slowly gaining weight, mostly because I was actually eating a dinner occasionally that wasn't just a few pieces of lettuce. The seamstress assured me I'd lose weight due to stress, but in fact I didn't. Mostly because I didn't feel that much stress (I'd made a decision, it was--and still is--the right decision, and I didn't see what there was to stress over). Anyway, I slightly increased my exercise routine, although it ultimately didn't do any good.
The shit hit the fan after I married and moved to the country. I had to drive to work. I struggled to stay awake behind the wheel each day, but I had several accidents due to almost falling asleep. The final one ended up with me driving into a canal. I survived and realized one thing: my life was more important than a few pounds--which the exercise wasn't keeping off, anyway. And what about the lives of others? What if I had run into a car with children inside? The thought made me sick with horror.
So I stopped.
Yes, I gained a few pounds. But I thought back to another time in college when I was thin, healthy, and had energy and realized the difference: that when I was at University in Scotland I didn't exercise. But I did walk everywhere.
Now, I walk the dogs several miles a day. I mow the lawn using a walk-behind mower (not riding, even though we have 3 acres of grass and 15 of woods). I park as far away from the store as possible.
In short, I LIVE. I don't exercise, I live and do normal, physical activities as part of my life. I'm awake, alert, and alive.
Sure, I put on a few pounds. But I was also gaining weight when I was exercising after I went back to eating a normal dinner. For me now, the answer is what it always was: stop eating seconds at supper and take another walk with the dogs.
Will I ever go back to exercising?
No. I want to be awake and alert when the next hummingbird comes to the feeder. I want to have energy and joy in my life instead of constant, draining misery. I want to be able to go to the movies with my husband and actually see the ending.
What should that magazine have told that lady?
1) Get an appointment with your doctor to make sure you don't have a serious medical condition.
2) Stop exercising and starting living.
That's it. Just live, be active, and be happy.