The experts agree: everyone needs to exercise. Regular readers of Cranky Fitness, feel free at this point to exclaim "Duh!" (Out loud, while at work--why not?) There are about 87,502 reasons why exercise is good for you, or, put another way, why people who don't exercise are totally screwed. And while every little bit of movement helps, more is better. Regular vigorous aerobic exercise (with some anaerobic intervals, strength training, and stretching thrown in too) is what you really need for optimal health.
Yet most people don't do it. Especially not the intense sweaty heavy-breathing kind. Why not? Because for the majority of people, despite what all the cheerful books and magazines and TV programs say about it, it's hard. It doesn't feel good, especially at first.
And Crabby has a theory: this inertia is entirely natural! Humans evolved to conserve our calories, which were hard to come by back when you had to hunt down and kill your protein, and roam the countrysides for miles in order to scrounge up enough carbs to keep from starving. So unless something with sharp teeth and claws was chasing after you at a fast clip, it made no sense to break into a run for no reason. Cavemen and cavewomen did better to sit on their butts and stuff themselves with calories when they got the chance. They would have just laughed at our silly elliptical trainers and exercise bikes! Inertia was their friend.
Now of course many readers of Cranky Fitness just love to do aerobic exercise. They look forward to it! They would still keep doing their triathlons even if all the studies suddenly reversed themselves and started saying whoops, looks like exercise actually causes cancer and heart disease--so sorry, we're afraid we had that backwards all these years! They'd go, oh, that's a shame, and go out for a fifteen mile run the next day anyway.
But there are others of us who must battle our "cavewoman" brains, and break through a stubborn wall of inertia almost every damn time we lace up our running shoes. Even if we actually enjoy our workouts much of the time. We do it anyway, day after day. Hooray for us! But we do it reluctantly nonetheless. It's not inherently appealing in the way a nice mid-day nap is.
So how do those of us who don't "naturally" like to do hard exercise come to find ourselves not only keeping up with it, but sometimes enjoying it? Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but there seem to be two main strategies.
Putting a television or a magazine rack in front of a treadmill, listening to books on tape, outlining your next novel, composing symphonies or writing cranky letters to the editor in your head--whatever your method, the idea is simple: Disconnect your brain! It would just be unhappy about what's going on down beneath it anyway, so protect it from the unpleasant physical sensations by keeping it occupied with more interesting things.
Crabby recently saw an article somewhere that said no, don't do this! The theory was that you'll be lazy and slow down if you're not paying enough attention. But Crabby says, screw that, go right ahead! Especially if you're on a treadmill--just set it for whatever pace you want to keep, and if you get too distracted you'll go flying off the back--THWACK--into the wall or the machine behind you. If you don't kill yourself or break anything, you'll eventually learn to keep your legs pumping even if your brain is miles away!
Note: Crabby doesn't use the distraction method herself. Her brain seems to be built to do only one thing at at time. So unless it's an easy walk (which she enjoys anyway) all she can think is This Sucks This Sucks This Sucks. So to make it Not Suck, she has to use this next method:
This method Crabby thinks of as the "Rock out with it" strategy. Accept the fact that you are exercising and make it, to the extent possible, fun! We all probably have different ways of doing this, but for Crabby, there are three essential requirements: Great Music, A Large Dose of Caffeine, and Rhythmic Motion in time to the music. (Beautiful scenery is nice too, but is strangely enough, not as crucial). With these in place, it is possible for Crabby to achieve an altered state in which exertion is transformed into exhilaration, or at least becomes way less miserable.
For optimal altered states, a certain amount of bouncy up-and-down motion seems to be helpful. (And she does not mean this in a dirty way! Please!) An elliptical trainer works best for Crabby, because she pretty much abuses it: she launches herself up unnecessarily high with each step, so that it becomes more like a "ride" than a piece of exercise equipment. Dancey aerobic classes are also great for this--the music and leaping are all part of the package. Running is also not bad, especially outside where it's pretty.
Unfortunately, race-walking is a way down on the list for Crabby. But it's what she mostly does because of her knees. She misses her old step aerobics classes and her morning runs, and has to be careful when she has access to elliptical machines not to overuse them. Crabby wonders if perhaps a mini trampoline or a pogo stick may be in her future?
So what about you folks: Are you "natural" aerobic exercisers who love it no matter what? Do you avoid it entirely? Are you a "Distractor" or an "Enhancer" or some combination? Or are there other cool strategies Crabby is completely overlooking?