Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: Why I exercise, but not in the traditional sense (plus a grocery store wrap-up)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Why I exercise, but not in the traditional sense (plus a grocery store wrap-up)

To be honest, the reason I don’t traditionally exercise, you know going to the gym, working out to a video, or using some funky equipment is, well, because I flippin’ hate it! And I think many people feel the same way about this as I do. Does this mean I think we don’t need physical activity? Well, of course we need physical activity, but I don’t think we need to ‘work out’ in the traditional sense to be healthy and fit. And why do so many feel this way about this type of exercise? It seems that many of us aren’t cut out for ‘traditional’ exercise. Could it be that this type of physical activity is a bit unnatural? Hear me out here.

Here is my anthropological argument against traditional exercise: do you think our ancestors sat around doing curls with rocks? Bench pressed tree limbs? No, they got their physical activity though day-to-day activities of survival and life, walking, swimming, gardening, foraging, playing, etc. Perhaps this is my justification for not wanting to exercise in the traditional sense, but to me, that’s ok, it makes sense.

I prefer to get my exercise the way my ancestors did, from my daily activities, which is very possible, even for those of us who don’t live in walkable cities. This may also be an ‘exercise routine’ that many of us could actually stick with.

You see, I walk at least two miles a day, I enjoy it, happily do it, but don’t realize I’m exercising, I mean I know walking is good for you, but the purpose of my walking is not for the exercise, it is to get me from point A to point B. Psychologically, there is a difference between the two. Ask me to walk two miles on a treadmill? No thank you, it’s painfully boring even with TVs and music, and I must say, at least when I am walking outside, as opposed to on a treadmill, the scenery changes and I’m not just moving in place. (Starting to see my ‘unnatural’ argument?)

I also firmly believe that exercise, like most everything else, is best done in moderation. Continuous, long-term, intense physical activity can be just as bad for a person in the long run as being sedentary. This is not to dog those who have the motivation to make a daily trek to the gym. In a lot of ways, I respect that level of commitment and motivation, however, personally don’t like the rigor and routine it requires. Not to mention, I find it pretty boring.

I also believe that most of us can’t really stick with a traditional exercise regimen, at least not on our own, and again, our ancestors (or even our grandparents who got outside and did hard physical labor, not for physical labors sake, but to farm or what have you) did not need personal trainers. Many of us can’t stick with a traditional exercise regimen and thus ‘fail’ at improving our health through physical activity. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that exercise for exercises sake tends to become a hassle, a chore for most people, who dread the idea of going to the gym. Not to mention, many of the machines and activities at the gym mimic activities that can be done in real life (walking, stair climbing, biking, rowing, and so on), my take is, do these things in real life don’t just mimic them, they’ll be much more enjoyable that way (and cheaper), and will likely not feel nearly as much like exercising.

My point in all of this is that much of our inability to create and stick with a traditional exercise regimen is psychological in my opinion. Going to the gym is a hassle, it’s boring, and it’s not very fun, so most of us either have to convince ourselves that being fit is just beyond our grasp or force ourselves to do something that we likely won’t stick with in the long run. Well, we don’t have to feel that way, nor do we have to force ourselves to the gym. We have to find activities that we either enjoy or distract us from realizing that we are exercising.

Here is some advice that has worked for me on how to get exercise without exercising. Many of these activities are also more environmentally friendly and could save you money on things like gas.

1. Walk to your destination. This is the simplest thing you can do – even if you don’t live in a walkable city. If you live near enough to the places you frequent, start walking to a few of them. It’s hard to feel like you are exercising when you are on your way to work. This isn’t an option? Well, simply park your car as far away as possible from your destination and walk from there (i.e. at the back of the lot where nobody parks). It’s easy, less frustrating than circling to find a ‘good’ parking space, there’s no funky equipment to buy, and it’s something that can easily become a (healthy) habit. :-)

2. Go walking for pleasure with a friend. I don’t mean power walking here, though if you want to that’s fine, I personally don’t prefer sweating, but that’s just me.

3. Go bike riding.

4. Go swimming with a buddy. You don’t have to swim laps either, again, this is an activity that I find to be pretty boring. You might be surprised at how good a few hours of playing in the pool are for you.

5. Take the stairs. This is not only better for you, but you save energy that way also, as some mechanical box is not taking you to your destination, your feet are. I work on the 7th floor of my building and walk up 7 flights of stairs multiple times a day. Did it take me a awhile to be able to do this? Yes, but I hate waiting for the elevator, so I did not work to be able to get up those stairs without being out of breath because it’s good for me, that is just a pleasant side effect, I just happen to be impatient and not really like elevators.

Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. My point in all of this is to show that it’s possible to be fit and healthy without having to slave away for hours a day at the gym. I am thin, strong, fit, and healthy and I will likely never set foot in a gym in my lifetime. It’s not impossible, you just have to be creative and find a reasonable way to get some physical activity that you enjoy. Some like tennis (I don’t like running), some like hiking (that’s fun), some like golf (never played), and so on. Most people don’t do these things because they are ‘good for you’, we do these things because they are fun.

Now I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know what I like and dislike and that many other people struggle with traditional exercise in much the same way as myself, so I thought I'd put it out there.

I thought I'd end with a wrap-up of our trip to the grocery store yesterday, maybe give you an idea of the things I'll be whipping up this week.

Let's start with produce, we got three jewel yams, a lemon, a lime, two oranges, a small butternut squash, a yellow onion, a bag of spinach (I hate buying bagged spinach, damn the Midwest and it's winter!), a yellow bell pepper, an acorn squash, some lovely serrano peppers, some lovely jalapeno peppers (I love when peppers start to turn red), and three avocados. I must ask, why do they have to put such big labels on organic produce, I mean seriously, when I get organic little new potatoes, there is a sticker on every single one. How environmentally friendly is that?

Next are bulk items. I love the bulk section, at our grocery store, pretty much everything in the bulk section is organic and inexpensive. We got chipotle chili powder, dried cranberries, peanuts, rolled oats (though not enough, we got the last of what they had), quinoa, yellow cornmeal, and pecans.

And finally, the procesed or minimally processed items. We got an Amy's Roasted Vegetable Pizza, a Kashi cheese pizza (for Brett), canned diced tomatoes with green chiles, canned sliced black olives, canned tomato paste, Original Newman O's (for Brett), Nature's Path Apricot and Nut granola bars, blue corn chips, and organic picante sauce.

Well, this is long enough!

'Til next time.


ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

Your philosophy on exercise is AWESOME! Maybe people wouldn't be so anti-exercise if they didn't feel that they HAD to go to a stuffy old gym in order to get their exercise in. Seriously, once you stop looking at exercise as a chore, it becomes fun! In fact, I'm off for a walk right now, to a duck pond near my house to feed the ducks :o).

Ruby Red Vegan said...

I like how you think about exercise too! I think walking to actual destinations is much more enjoyable than walking for the sake of exercise alone. The gym can get very monotonous, so I'm hoping it will stop being so darn cold outside here! If we didn't have so many modern conveniences that reduce physical activity, keeping in shape would be so much easier! I'd much rather my activity be spaced out over the day rather than being done all in one lump at the gym. But I accept that's where I'm at right now!

Cookiemouse said...

I quite agree! Here in Amsterdam I cycle a lot, but should walk more than I do. You make a lot of very good points. For years I have been doing Qi gong, which can be done anywhere without any equipment.

Jennifer said...

Chocolate Covered - Thank, I just found that I always longed to be in shape but could never bring myself to go to a gym or keep with an at-home exercise routine, so giving up the car provided a great opportunity, my stamina has increased so much, in the spring/summer Brett and I love to walk from our apartment to downtown, its a long walk, probably three miles (takes about an hour), we walk a leisurely pace, its nice.

Ruby Red - Thanks! It feels more accomplished when you actually reach a destination or have more purpose in your physical activity.

Oh, I get so much more activity in the summer, but don't do too bad in the winter since I walk to the bus station everyday (I could catch a bus there, but why?), walk from the grocery store, do the stairs, etc, but during the summer, there is a lot more walking, swimming, etc.

Cookiemouse - I don't actually cycle too much, we actually don't currently have bikes (long story), but I have to be honest, we may live in a fairly walkable town, but I'm still not comfortable with the idea of riding my bike down the shoulder of a road where people who aren't used to looking for cyclers are driving at high speeds. So I walk.


I'm not familiar with Qi gong.

Happy Herbivore! said...

I constantly deal with people who write me and tell me they'd rather be fat than go to the gym. For me, I love the gym. I'm totally addicted to endorphines and it's my "safe space" once I walk through those doors I'm protected. The stresses of life cannot get to me in there. For an hour or two (or sometimes three! I'm a freak) I'm FREE. I'm spending time with myself, my body, my thoughts. When I trainned for the marathon I looked foward to my long 4 hour runs because I listened to an audio book or put myself through self help therapy on some...issues... I had. It was wonderful. I felt like a totally NEW person every time I ran.

I know the gym isn't for everyone and it can feel like a chore if you don't love it. I LOVE IT. I go too much. I work out too hard too many days a week - which is unhealthy but that's what it takes to run marathons and train for an ironman.

Still, like you pointed out, there are other ways to get the physical activity we need. Walk to work. Don't park at the spot closest to the door, go for long strolls with friends instead of the movies...

Scott & I took the kids and walked the beach this weekend - it was fun, we got a little sun and all 4 of us got a boost of exercise.

Jennifer said...

Happy Herbivore - I think dislike of the gym and traditional exercise is something many of us share. I highly respect those we can and enjoy going to the gym, and I too enjoy the endorphines of working out, I feel great after I go for a long walk.

Haha! There IS a such thing as working out too much, but I think there ARE worse habits. While I would never run a marathon (I hate running) or do Iron Man (not tough enough), I do understand intesive training are necessary to partake and highly respect your motivation to reach your goals. Good luck, I'll be keeping up with your Journey of Health blog to see how your training is coming along.

Since most of us likely don't have the aspirations you do, the things I mentioned and the things you mention are likely to yield more results than trying to force ourselves to the gym if for no other reason than that these activities seem less like exercise and thus are easier to stick with.

Oh, walking on the beach, I am jealous! Good for the body, good for the heart, good for the doggies, and a great way to spend time together as a family.

Jennifer said...

Oh and I meant 'who' not 'we'

Erin said...

I know this is an older post, but I feel compelled to point out that while using an exercise machine you are inside, and it is air conditioned! A very important point while spending the summer in Florida :)

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Duly noted. :-) Such is not the case for us Midwesterners.