Why Exercise Sucks - November 22, 2008

It's a simple fact. I absolutely loathe and despise exercise. Mind you, I don't object to DOING something that may involve exercise. In school I was an avid player of both basketball and soccer (football in the UK), and I had few issues aside from asthmatic shortness of breath in performing adequately. In my mid 20s I decided that it was damaging my knees to continue in these sports, so I turned to racquetball for a while. Ultimately a lower back injury put an end to that. To my way of thinking none of those activities were "exercise," because they had a competitive end goal in view and my mind and spirit were completely engaged. The sports were simply recreation, and any aspect of exercise was incidental. While I'm probably as competitive as I ever was, the venues to explore that competitive spirit have become more mental than physical. Like most, I had my experience with health clubs, where they take money from your credit card or bank account monthly, and you go a few times, then become too busy or lazy to go, and too embarrassed to cancel until the expenses get out of hand.

About 15 years ago I changed employers. The new employer was located in California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Unlike any place I had ever worked, they had a full-time health club on site, complete with locker rooms, showers, and TWO full-time health and fitness coaches, all provided free of charge to any employee. New job, new place, new schedule - so why not add a new exercise routine among the other changes? I jumped in with both feet. The consultant measured height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate (both resting and active), and body fat. Though it didn't show at the time, I was borderline obese. A blood test (for a nominal fee) confirmed that my cholesterol scores were all very high. The trainer set up a personalized exercise program for me consisting of 45 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week to be interspersed with 40 minutes of crunches, weight machines, and free-weight workouts on the other two workdays.

I jumped into it with enthusiasm borrowed from the newness of the company, environment, and job challenges. I hit the health center five days per week, early in the morning, sweating over the machines and showering with the corporate executives (which was very weird). Over time I developed a routine, sipping Gatorade and jamming to loud music while pounding the machines and swinging the free weights. There was a lot of muscle soreness in the first few weeks, then... nothing. I did not lose any pounds. I did not lose any inches or reduce clothing sizes. All that I noticed was that the shortness of breath when climbing stairs or a hill was gone. No other benefits perceived. Blood work did not improve, either. Upon evaluation, I found that I had slowly developed a way to "cheat" the machines - resting a lot of my weight on my arms when working the legs and vice versa. Plus drinking the Gatorade, which is basically salty sugar water, was probably adding nearly as many calories as were being burned. And, most importantly, my waning enthusiasm revealed this absolute truth -
I HATED EVERY SINGLE MISERABLE MINUTE OF IT! So I quit after about 8 months, and I never looked back.

Subsequently I tried a number of diets, all of which worked as long as you were faithful, and all of which were not sustainable - the American norm. About five years ago we found one that might have been workable long term, but six weeks in Hawaii was enough to derail it forever. Now, of course, the diet is a non-issue. We've implemented a complete and total lifestyle change that would have been inconceivable before. Nothing like an imminent threat of death to improve motivation. If God wants to get YOUR attention, let's hope something less radical can work for you! And the diet has been quite successful. Pounds dropping fast, sizes decreasing, energy increasing, blood work the best it's been in years. Dr. Lamm said following the BCG regimen is the best hope to beat the disease, and beyond that diet was the next best thing. Check both of those boxes as being done. His last recommendation was to add exercise. I wrote at the time that this was bad news, and now you know why. Many of you have told me that I would just LOVE the exercise once a routine was established. I already know that this is not true. Some like the social aspect of going to the gym with someone, or even competing to exercise. Being a strong introvert, this is not going to work for me, as proved by multiple unused gym memberships. When it comes to exercise, I want to be alone. (apologies to Greta Garbo)

So a lot of you exercise, alone or socially, and YOU love it. Please don't assume everybody else will be the same. Apparently during times of stress, such as extreme exercise, natural substances called endorphins are released into the body. Endorphins can cause feelings of nausea, and they also can bring a calming, or pain-killing effect. And they are best known for potentially causing the euphoric feeling called "runner's high" or "adrenaline rush." Any examination of scientific literature quickly reveals that these "positive" effects are highly variable between individuals. Sorry to tell all you skinny exercise-people this, but I DON'T GET IT. If anything, I get the opposite of it. And I suggest an eight month trial was plenty of time to give it a try. And don't think I haven't seen you out there, riding your mountain bikes, pounding your treadmills, jogging around the block in any kind of weather. You may be getting high on the inside, but your facial expressions and body contortions look pretty miserable to me! Check out our happily high marathoner on the right... Still, to each his or her own. Just quit telling me that I will love the exercise, because I already know that I will despise it.

Does that mean that I won't do it? Surprisingly to me, even the deadly disease motivator seems to have fallen short on this one. I put some exercise clothing in a gym bag and put it in my truck three weeks ago. My half baked plan was to go to the company's fitness center (scaled down here in Utah, but still quite nice, and free), and try some of the machines out, taking it easy. I recall from 15 years ago that the least-hated exercise routine (and I tried ALL the machines, free weights, aerobics, etc.) was the upright stationary bike. Since then recumbent stationary bikes have been invented. I tried one for a bit last year, and it seemed to hurt my lower back more than the upright ones. Elliptical exercisers are new, but seem risky on the lower back. Still, some experimentation must be done to see what could work. I'm thinking an exercise bike in the basement might be tolerable, to be alone and watch TV, read, etc. while trying to ignore the misery of exercise. But why buy before you try, especially if it's free? In the past few weeks the BCG experience left me a bit tired, and working 3-day weeks kept me pretty busy during the other days. Last week was my first full week back at work.
I took it easy on Monday and Tuesday, and was quite exhausted by Tuesday night. The rest of the work week was much better, and still busy. So by 6PM (or later) all I wanted to do was go home, not go to work out. Next week is a partial week, and should be very quiet. America's Thanksgiving holiday is on Thursday, and most are taking one or more days off. There's plenty for me to do, but no reason that some experimental exercise could not be attempted.

I will never WANT to do it, so wish me luck that I will be able to start the routine and see it through. Getting the circulation up and oxygen intake increased will both be very helpful to fighting cancer recurrence, so it needs to be done. Even if it doesn't end up like the last photo at left, don't expect me to love it!!!


Tom said...

Hey. One of your MC friends, been following your progress from time to time.

Exercise. I get it. Particularly running. I trained into my middle 30's, and I hated every second that I put in so that I might play a game I loved. When the game was over, so was the exercise.

I gained a huge chunk of weight, so I started running. I ran 6 miles a day 6 days a week for 2 years (plus the run up to it). Then the day that I decided that the running partner wouldn't be a life partner, the running stopped. When the sight of that butt leading me up a hill wasn't enough, nothing was. BTW, she has moved on to marathons, good for her:)

Good luck to you, Steve. I hope you hit on something you can do. And that you will share the secret with me...

A Dived Ref said...

Hi Steve,

With you on the Loathing sport stuff. I have a cross trainer and used to use it regularly but set myself back using it too soon after they'd biopsied me - silly I know. I will take that up again in the New Year 2 or 3 times a week for 20 minutes at a time. However, what I do is walk 3 miles a day Monday to Friday to and from the train station at both ends. If I need to go anywhere in London, I get a route map and walk it rather than bus or underground (subway) and so on. I would have thought your skiing would be a way to get fitter too?

Anyway, good luck to you, I know exactly what you mean about everything else has changed but actually doing anything that makes you look as ill as some of the runners in my office can't be good for you :-) surely?

All the best


Steve Kelley said...

Hey Big Tom from AZ, glad to hear from you! Your story reminds me of another friend of mine, who now gets that extreme endorphin high from running. His motivation at first was to run on a nude beach! Seems like you and I are not in his class - with the absence of such motivation the endorphins don't come and the exercise sucks.

Hello also to David F. Best of luck on the upcoming TURBT. Hope it goes well, and remember to do the deep breathing and hypnosis. And I have to agree - if getting an endorphin rush means looking like the marathoner in the post photo or the folks I see that just love to exercise, they can keep it. I shall be content to take my exercise like medicine, thank you very much!