Weeds: Move it: It’s good for you

I will now summarize all the current fitness recommendations by researchers and doctors:

Do anything.

There it is. Exactly two words. I usually write around a thousand, so I’ll add some.

Do anything. Just move. In an overly complex world, this is beautifully simple. Anything: bike, swim, garden, sweep the floor, rake leaves, move boxes, chase after a little kid. Pick any sport that is more physically challenging than checkers. Heck, checkers counts if you’re standing up. Doing more is better. But anything is better than nothing.

Our bodies are made to move. There are always fads in exercise. Right now, High Intensity Interval Training is one. I feel a little sore just typing that. But really the message has never been clearer: do anything.

Plain old walking remains one of the best activities. No membership needed, no equipment, no training. One foot ahead of the other like we’ve been doing since we were ten months old. I sometimes add intentional-inefficiencies in my day. If I need two things in the basement, I get one at a time, doubling my steps! (Unless I forget what the other thing was, but that’s another issue.)

This notion that we’re supposed to move would have seemed crazy to our ancestors. Physical toil was essential to survival. If you didn’t grow or catch your food and build shelter for the winter, you didn’t get to sit around and reflect. You died. Outside of some kings and queens, this was the unforgiving truth of life on our planet for thousands of years.

A couple of generations ago that changed, at least in wealthier nations. For the first time you could get by without doing much physically. By the time I came along, a life of leisure was held out to be a goal. You got yourself a high paying desk job, travelled about in a climate-controlled car, maybe swung through the drive-through for lunch. Then it was home to your recliner in front of the TV. Perhaps golf on the weekends, motoring around in a cart.

Problem is that a sedentary life is wholly unnatural and sets us up for all manner of afflictions. Turns out that a life of leisure was a bill of goods we were being sold. “Sitting is the new smoking” may be a bit harsh, but there is truth in that. I am fortunate that farming involves a certain amount of physical activity. Rural people in general are more active than our city cousins, so that’s a benefit to life out here in the boondocks.

We just spent a day with our three-year-old grandson. Trying to keep up with Levi is invigorating. Playing chase and wrestling would never end if it were up to him. His boundless energy even had the woman I am married to on the floor tussling with him. It can be instructive, too. Levi’s arms and legs are new compared to mine. The child-like exuberance that propels them is a reminder of the simple joy that can come from using them.

I jog/run a little. There’s a theory that says we can borrow running techniques from children to reduce injury. Lean forward, elbows thrown back opposite paces, heels up after steps, these are all ways kids run if you watch them. They are natural if we can retrieve them. It’s a little goofy for a 62-year old guy to be imitating a child, but what the heck.

From what I read, sex is also an extremely beneficial form of exercise. Of course, there can be consequences that accrue from sex that don’t come from tennis or basketball. It can lead to months of sleeplessness, years of stress worrying about a teenager, and thousands of dollars spent. I’m not exactly recommending it. I’m just saying what I read.

Besides how much we move, the other contributor to our health that we control is what we put into our bodies, what we eat. Here, there are even more trends and fads than exercise. Eat fats, don’t eat fats, eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, it can be overwhelming. In my lifetime, eggs have alternately been bad for you, good for you, bad for you, and good for you.

While current advice on nutrition isn’t as simple as “do anything,” common sense works. An apple is better than a bag of chips, water is better than Pepsi. A bag of chips and Pepsi have their place but a small place. Mostly eat things that are unprocessed. Don’t eat too much of anything. We know these things instinctively. They’re like walking in that way.

We know, though, that we can do everything right and bad things can happen to us. Moving and eating are things we can control. Injury and illness are sometimes things we can’t. Some of our health is dumb luck. When I was in my fifties, I tried to thank God every day for my good health. Now in my sixties, I should get on my knees and thank Him profusely.

We can better our odds by living healthy, but that’s all. Bettering my odds didn’t seem like a big deal when I was enjoying smoking in my twenties. Now it does.

The Star Tribune ran an interview with Daniel Zeman, a physiologist from Minnetonka. Zeman has written a book titled, “You’re Too Old to Die Young: A Wake-Up Call for the Male Baby Boomer on How to Age With Dignity.” Zeman, who is my age, says that us guys have a moral obligation to do what we can to be fit. It is wrong for us to have a “nonchalant belief that future generations will cheerfully accept the mental, physical and financial costs associated with our poor health status, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancers, strokes, obesity, heart disease and depression.”

I saved the article, thinking it was a helpful kick in the rear for me. In the comments online, there were men who saw this as some sort of politically-correct conspiracy. Several pointed out that we’re all going to die anyway. They’re right. The question is how we’ll spend our days till then.

It is easier to write about exercise and eating well than it is to do it. Somewhere in my future I’ll inhale a bag of jalapeno and cheddar kettle chips after a couple beers in a fit of non-discipline. Then it’ll be a matter of trying to do better the next day. Like so much in life, it’s trying to do better the next day. Knowing those days will run out.

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