exercise: my heart was never in it

I did a color run, once. I mostly walked.
I did a color run, once. I mostly walked.

All my life, people have looked at my long legs and asked me if I’m a runner. While I have an uncle who’s an ultramarathoner, I have never, ever liked running or really exercise of any sort. For most of my life, I thought this was because I’m just wimpy, lazy somehow. I could never complete the entire President’s Physical Fitness Test mile without a large bit of walking. Pretty much all physical activities left me easily tired and winded, so I never really played sports or learned coordination or balance. I can’t really stand on one foot. I am MASSIVELY clumsy.

Three years ago, I learned the real story behind my fainting Victorian lady’s constitution: I have a heart defect. Exercise has always left me winded and fatigued because my heart was already working as heard as it possibly could just keeping me alive. Asking it to go above and beyond was just not gonna fly. Finally, just the stress of keeping me and two other people alive sent my heart into actual failure.

Now my heart is able to function in a normal range because I take some pretty serious medications. But I still feel weird when I exercise (or visit a high altitude locale) because my medicines keep my heart rate very controlled– for most folks the goal of exercise is to get your heart rate up, but mine’s not really going to go up, no matter what I do. Even when I stood on a stage and talked about the scariest thing that ever happened to me, I worked up a good sweat but my heart didn’t beat a bit faster. Instead, when my heart rate should be climbing, I feel like I always have: easily winded and overtired.

Still, I know that if I want my heart to be healthy in the future, I’m going to have to figure out how to exercise. I don’t want to, because I, shockingly, don’t like doing things I suck at. I don’t enjoy being the flailing person at a gym. I project all sorts of thoughts into other people’s heads about how insane I look and how pathetic I am getting winded just barely jogging. Not to mention, finding time to exercise when you have twin toddlers is tough.

But after reading this awesome post from a fat woman who designed a successful fitness app, I’m feeling inspired to try to do SOMETHING more than I do now:

For the vast majority of people, competition in exercise is not fun. It’s no fun to compete if you know you can never win. It’s no fun to be on a team if you know you’re bound to let everyone else down with your performance. The rhetoric of ‘more, better, harder, feel the burn’ doesn’t work for who those of us just want to use our bodies and enjoy being in them.

I remember really liking yoga for a while there. I think that’s something I might be able to achieve via videos during a couple nap times per week, but I can’t give up all my nap times, because those are also usually my writing times. I also don’t mind walking, and think maybe I could make that happen a couple of times per week too. I’m not likely to take up running or anything else hardcore, but I can move more so that I can take care of my heart and feel more connected to my body, to enjoy being in it.

In the meantime, if you see me struggling up a hill in the neighborhood know that my heart is trying really hard to be in it.

sweating it

Before I got married, my last name was a certain word synonymous with perspiration (which is why, despite my feminist tendencies, I wasn’t so keen on keeping it).  I’ve been living up to that name this week in more ways than one.

My lovely state has been on the news lately as the HOTTEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. In case you don’t believe me, this was our forecast this week (apologies for the weird alt text in my screenshot):

Last night, at 9 pm, the heat index was still in the HIGH 90s. Just walking outside from the car into a building is enough to work up a good sweat.  My poor air conditioner has been chugging away non-stop all week in a valiant effort to keep the interior of our house a frosty 80 degrees.  It probably doesn’t help that we have furniture covering almost all the vents, to which I ask, why, God, why, are all our vents also in the most logical places to put furniture?  Our couch has now been pulled 6 inches out from the wall to expose the vent. It looks kind of silly, but damn if it isn’t cooler in here.

In addition to this heat wave, this week my husband signed me up for a membership at the gym at his work and has invited me to come work out with him.  Something to know about me: I’m basically allergic to physical activity.  As a kid, I spent one season on a softball team and spent the entirety of it making daisy chains in the outfield.  My parents signed me up for tennis lessons, where it was discovered that I had a knack for hitting myself in the head when I tossed the ball to serve.  I routinely flunked the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, but even this socialist would like to know why it’s any of the president’s business how many sit-ups I can do, anyway. Pretty much the only exercise I’ve ever loved was yoga, but classes haven’t started up at our gym yet.

And still, I know I need to get some exercise. I don’t need to lose weight, but I do need to get some cardiovascular activity in for the sake of my heart. I’m skinny but I’m not in shape.  And the gym is chock full of the one and only exercise machine I’m willing to touch: the elliptical.  I’m not sure what it is about the elliptical that makes it the least repellent form of exercise to me, but I don’t abjectly hate it, which is a big deal. It feels like walking on the moon. I can moonwalk for 30 minutes 3 times a week, right?

Well, huffing and puffing, I moonwalked for 30 minutes on Monday. I’d like to attribute some of that huffing and puffing to the fact that I made the mistake of hopping on a machine in front of a TV playing Fox News.  Yesterday, my legs felt like jelly, so I didn’t go to the gym.  Today, my sports-loving man messaged me that he was off work early, and did I want to meet him in the gym?

Something else to know about me: I’m great at guilt tripping myself. I think maybe my mother just did such a good job of it that now I just do it on autopilot. I know Jon isn’t thinking this, but I project my own guilt onto him: “What a lazyass, home in your pjs at noon on a weekday! You never work out! You should go to the gym!”  I put on my workout clothes and hopped into the car and headed to the gym. Jon had already done 20 minutes of weights when we met up at the cardio machines, him on a bike and me on the elliptical. About 15 minutes in, huffing and puffing harder than before, I told him I wasn’t sure I’d make it 30 minutes.

Something to know about Jon: he’s the most encouraging person ever, and he knows how I operate. Occasionally he tries to teach me tennis, and he’s learned that I just do not respond to negative feedback.  I need a LOT of cheerleading.  As he pedaled away on his bike set to some insane incline, he assured me that I could definitely survive 20 minutes on that machine. Then my stubbornness kicked in, and I became determined to keep moving until the time ticked down.

Now, an hour later, I think I might have finally stopped sweating.  For a minute there I thought I might puke.  Yep, 20 minutes on an elliptical machine and I’m sweating like a pig and thinking I might puke. THIS is why I need to work out.

Now I just have to decide if it’s even worth it to bother showering when it’s a million degrees outside and I’ll just be sweaty again in 10 minutes.

Are you a gym nut? Do you love to work out? Or are you like me, and frankly hate it? How do you make yourself exercise? What’s your favorite machine?

the only thing we need to lose is our obsession with thinness

Image: yoga after climbing, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from lululemonathletica's photostream

I spend a lot of time reading feministy, body-positive, Healthy at Every Size type blogs, so at first I wasn’t surprised to read a piece called Never Take Fitness Advice from the New York Times. Until I realized it was written by a man, and on Gawker to boot.  Yay for encountering body-positive messages in unlikely spaces, particularly considering the staggering number of negative messages we get about our bodies each and every day!

In this piece, Hamilton Nolan critiques a recent NYT article called “Does Working Out Really Help You Lose Weight?,” particularly its assumption that the goal of exercise, and indeed all of life, is being “thin,” a word that is used repeatedly in the NYT’s article. Hamilton writes:

Being thin is an awful goal towards which to strive. It is certainly not the goal of an exercise program. Writing an entire, ostensibly meaningful and important story on whether exercise can make you thin is analogous to wondering whether going to college can get you laid. Yes, but that’s not really the point.

The purpose of working out is get in shape. Not to get “thin.” To be in shape, for the average person, connotes being healthy, and improving on the basic elements of one’s own fitness: muscular strength, endurance, cardiovascular, flexibility, etc.

Amen! The goal of working out, and even of eating healthy foods, is to be HEALTHY, which may or may not mean being thin. In fact, for many people, it will not mean being thin. And being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy, either. I should know. I’m what the NYT might call “thin,” with a BMI* naturally in the “underweight” range of the scale, and yet I am still what you might call “out of shape.” I couldn’t run a mile if you asked me to. I have a rather high resting heart rate. But I recently started exercising regularly for the first time in my life, by taking yoga classes, and I am feeling stronger and healthier and happier the more I practice yoga.

Not to mention, thinness is a crappy way to motivate people to pursue healthy activities. I eat healthy food because it tastes good. I practice yoga because it’s fun, it helps with my back pain, and it makes me feel beautiful just to be in my body. I even hear tell that some people like to run because they think it’s fun, though I think it sounds like torture! Do what makes you feel good and healthy.  Do what’s fun. It may or may not make you thin, and who really cares anyway?

*As an aside on the BMI: a lot of those feministy body-positive Healthy at Every Size blogs I read like to talk smack on the BMI. While they have a point that having a certain BMI does not necessarily mean one is by definition unhealthy, ie, just because one falls in the “obese” or “underweight” category according to the BMI does not mean one will have all of the health complications associated with that category, the BMI is still useful as a measure of predicting risk and determining if further testing is necessary. For example, according to my BMI, I might be at risk for infertility, osteoporosis, and anemia. Because of this, my doctors might suggest testing or monitoring to see if I have developed those issues, but it doesn’t mean I have to HAVE those issues– in fact, I don’t. The same goes for people who are obese according to the BMI– they are at risk for diabetes and other complications, and may require testing or monitoring, but will not necessarily have those conditions.