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Kathy Smith

Exercise Needs to Be Nonnegotiable Item in the Business of Life

January 05, 1998|Kathy Smith

Teddy Roosevelt was my kind of guy. Though born sickly and asthmatic, he transformed himself through vigorous exercise into a force of nature, one who could outride, out-row, out-trek anyone.

What's most interesting about his accomplishments is that Teddy's doctors warned him, when he was a Harvard student, that strenuous activity would kill him. Fortunately, he ignored them, and for the rest of his life his prescription for feeling out of sorts was physical exertion.

Well, medical science has at last caught up to T.R. Today, there's no doubt that regular exercise adds life to your years and years to your life. The question we face isn't whether to exercise--it's how often to exercise.

While the best answer is every day, I realize that reality intrudes. Even the best intentions to get up and get out to the gym or track can be sabotaged by feeling sick, achy, tight, lazy or bored. And those aren't even the good reasons. In my small circle of friends alone, there are enough life-and-death dramas to make you want to stay in bed with the covers pulled over your head: One person suffers through a divorce, another battles cancer, a third participates in an intervention for her alcoholic husband.

No wonder exercise sometimes falls on the to-do list somewhere between painting the garage shelves and cleaning out the glove compartment.

Even so, exercise is like gravity: Ignoring it doesn't lessen its importance.

If you're going to be a successful exerciser, what has to change is the way you think about exercise. You need to shift your mind-set.

First, acknowledge that the nature of reality is to get in the way of exercise. Distractions, achiness, exhaustion and emotional ups and downs are built into living.

Second, stop thinking of exercise as that thing over there that you'll do when everything else on the to-do list gets done. You need to put it in the nonnegotiable category with brushing your teeth, tying your shoes--or even going to work. Some days you're really excited about getting to the office, and some days you're not. But you still go.

That's what I do with exercise. Rarely do I open my eyes in the morning and shout, "Goody, I get to exercise today!" Like you, I often feel achy, or lazy, or depressed, or overwhelmed by crisis. But when those sensations plague me, I don't ask myself whether I should exercise. I get up anyway, brush my teeth, tie my shoes--and exercise.

Exercise is a nonnegotiable part of my life, as it is for everyone I know who's successfully integrated it into their lives.

We've also done something else: established a sort of support group of friends, partners and spouses who have a similar devotion to exercising. Exercise has become a part of our lifestyle rather than an appendage to our lives.

I love it that friends or family will call and invite me to play tennis, ride bikes, take a hike, go for a walk. Or I'll ask them to jog or lift weights with me. These relationships support my goal of staying in shape, so I never sense that the world is conspiring against my exercising.

Fact is, it's awfully difficult to stay on track if you feel you're alone. No matter what we do, the people we associate with inevitably influence us, both for the good and the bad. If you're trying to be spiritual, for instance, you surround yourself with spiritual people.

And so it is with exercise. Even the best-intentioned exercisers won't be able to stick with a program for more than six weeks if their exercise regimen is a solo effort, because what they miss--and what often defeats them--is the magic that results when they associate with others who have similar goals and interests.

That's why I recommend to people whose friends, family or spouses don't support exercise that they broaden their universe. Joining a gym is a great place to meet others who share your goals. So is running (or walking) a 5K or 10K race. Somewhere in Southern California, there's a race almost every weekend. Usually they're for charity, so participating is a great way to do something good while also doing good.

Though much has changed in the last hundred years about the way we exercise, one thing hasn't: Staying motivated, as Teddy Roosevelt discovered, is less about matter than it is about mind.


Copyright 1997 by Kathy Smith

* Kathy Smith's fitness column appears in Health on the first Monday of the month. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her video "Functionally Fit Peak Fat Burning." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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