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Health Horizons : FITNESS : Zing Time : Some physical fitness activities go beyond just staying in shape--they exercise the mind as well.

March 21, 1993|ERIK FAIR | Erik Fair is the fitness editor of California City Sports and Orange Coast Magazine. His new book, California Thrill Sports (Foghorn Press, San Francisco), is available at major bookstores and specialty stores.

David Morrow looks back on his dreary New England childhood and recalls: "At age 14, I was a short, fat, pimply-faced kid with a 'kick-me' sign on my back." This sorry teen-ager grew into "just another out-of-shape smoker with a high-pressure job."

Today, at 32, the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of Morrow's life have blossomed--dare we say merged --in the Southern California sun.

On weekdays, Morrow the fitness freak works 12-hour days as a personal trainer at Sports Club/Irvine. On weekends and holidays, David the thrill-seeker "bags peaks,"--a mountain climber's term for scaling the summits of mountains such as Mt. Whitney in the Sierra and Chekoong Ri in the Himalayas. Finally, David Morrow the "spiritualist" preaches his meditation-based gospel--"A Life in Balance: Living Stress Free"--to health clubs and corporate groups around the Southland.

Yes, Morrow's conversion to a vital lifestyle was dramatic, and yes, his taste for action is extreme. But if progressed to the point where you pedal your bicycle to work two or three times a week, paddle around the ocean in your sea kayak on weekends, and yak with friends and loved ones about how much fun it all is, you--like Morrow--have embraced the three most popular theories in today's health and fitness scene.

* The "lifestyle" theory--that you must marry fitness rather than just fool around with it.

* The "journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" theory--the idea that if you want to tackle something as emotionally daunting as "establishing a whole new lifestyle" you had better break it down into a series of safe, non-intimidating steps.

* The "if it ain't fun, rewarding, exciting or spiritually meaningful, you probably won't stick with it" theory--that maybe we should ignore the artificial distinctions between recreation, fitness, exhilarating adventure, and inner peace and just go for whatever delivers the most fun, whatever makes us feel best about ourselves over the long haul.

Sound "holistic?" Sound "New Age?" Not really. Neither of those passive impostors offer anything exciting enough to get the adrenaline pumping through our bodies nor physically active enough to set those "good-feeling" endorphins coursing through our brains.

As rock climber Peter Mayfield of City Rock Gym puts it: "What attracts people to my (indoor rock climbing wall and fitness facility) is that everyone who works out there has this gleam in their eye about something other than a Stairmaster."

It's true: moderate exercise laced with the riveting excitement of sports like rock climbing, kayaking, hang gliding, and bungee jumping creates a powerful motivational stew--especially for those of us whose internal boredom monsters constantly rear their ugly heads and hiss: "This fitness stuff is tedious! Let's go do something with some ZING!"

Rock climbers, kayakers, hang glider pilots--even bungee jumpers, believe it or not--get most of the rewards of traditional fitness activities: post-workout glow, performance satisfaction, and altered states such as "runner's high" or "zoning." But thrill-seekers also enjoy dramatic exposures to earth, water and air, plus the bizarre distortions of time, space and gravity that you experience only when you scale a vertical rock wall, plunge past a growling rapid, swoop through thin air in a hang glider, or dangle at the end of a mightily stretched bungee cord.

The penalty for all those pluses, of course, is physical risk. "The one school of thought tells us that risk-takers are self-destructive," says Newport Beach psychologist Kerry Delk. "But more and more credence is being given to theories that say the process of identifying, confronting, and managing physical risk--in the name of exceptional fun--is both empowering and healthy."

With that encouraging thought in mind, let's take a look at some of the obvious, and not-so-obvious fitness benefits of rock climbing, kayaking, hang gliding, and bungee jumping.

Rock Climbing

If you're a beginner who wants to climb for fun and fitness, and would like to climb higher than you'd care to fall, you should limit yourself to professionally supervised "technical, top-rope free climbing." As such, you will scale near-vertical rock slabs and vertical rock faces while safely attached, via rope and harness, to a solid anchor at the top of the climb and a fellow climber at the bottom. Your "belayer," as this person is called, plays a critical role in your climbing workout. He or she will "catch" your fall within a few feet--should you make a mistake and come off the rock.

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