Exercise - Learning to Hate It Less - February 28, 2009

If you have read any of my stuff, you are well aware that I am on record as an exercise hater. We must acknowledge that it's one of the four foundations for beating cancer, which are:
1) Good attitude and spiritual health
2) Diet that stops supporting cancer growth and starts fighting it actively
3) Conventional and alternative medical care (includes vitamins, supplements, etc.)
4) Regular exercise
The third one is the most familiar. Pretty much everybody does conventional medicine as the doctors advise. Many do alternative things also, such as meditation, vitamins, supplements, ritual washings, healing dance, whatever. If it sounds reasonable to you, if you can afford it, and if you're pretty sure it won't hurt, those are things you should do. What could be the harm? For me the first three items on the were tough enough, and the last one has been a killer. After trying several brands and styles of treadmills, elliptical trainers, stair climbers, upright stationary bikes, spin bikes, and recumbent stationary bikes, I found a machine that I could tolerate. Target heart rate is between 130 and 145 for 15-20 minutes, plus warm up and cool down. Roughly 30-33 minutes on the bike. It's not enjoyable, but I have been able to tolerate it and get it done since the end of last November.

As a condition of my employer's arrangement with the U.S. Air Force (who we support directly), we are permitted to use the base exercise facilities. They are open from 4 AM to 11:30 PM seven days a week, except national holidays, when they close at 5 PM. The facility and equipment are the best that money can buy, impeccably clean and well maintained. Usage peaks early before work, around lunch, and from 3-5 PM as the various shifts complete. It's 5 minutes from work and 15 minutes from home, a half mile detour off the direct route between home and work. And it's free of charge. So what's the problem?

The problem has been my introvert's personality combined with logistics. First, the entire process is very public, including my less than fit condition, huffing, puffing, grunting, and occasional cursing. Second, it takes extra time. Time to negotiate security for that extra half mile. Time to change clothes in the public locker room, time to secure your stuff in a locker. Time to get the tunes hooked up and running in ear buds. Occasionally it takes time for the desired equipment to become available. It also takes time to cool down, change clothes again in the locker room, and exit the base. All of this turns a 30 minute workout into an hour or more. Doing it before work means doing it after breakfast and adding a public shower to the mix. Same with doing it during the day. So the only convenient time to work out has been after a full day's work, which on occasion ranges to 6 or 7 PM. Suffering through exercise when already tired is invigorating for many people, but not for me. I drive home exhausted, collapse into the couch, and can barely eat dinner or make conversation before going to bed. Being the stubborn sort, I do it anyway, because
I'll be damned if cancer is going to beat me just because I am lazy. And despite all the proclamations of the exercise-lovers in the world, I have not come to enjoy it any more - even after three solid months. I have exercised no less than twice per week (during BCG treatments), and have occasionally attained my target of 5 times per week. Most weeks have been four times, or three at worst. The lower frequency has been due to BCG tenderness, and also not being able to go after 5PM on holidays, which are pretty numerous.

Since I received the "all clear" last time I was inspected for cancer, I am resigned to continue. So what can be done to improve the situation? If I could roll out of bed, take my "empty stomach" supplements, grab some tea, and then go exercise first thing in the morning, logistics would be easier and the time greatly reduced. Doing this at the base would mean showering publicly and having breakfast out, or returning home first - a huge time waster.

Last Saturday (after posting to the blog) we purchased a used Life Fitness 95Ri recumbent bike from a very nice lady who had decided she preferred to use an elliptical trainer instead, so she had upgraded and needed to get rid of the bike. After trying both the Life Fitness and the Precor (she had both, which are top-of-the-line, expensive, high-quality brands) I was able to re-affirm that I prefer the ergonomics and arrangements of the Life Fitness brand. For only $525 cash we were able to take it home with us. Moved it inside and set up in the basement right in front of the TV and DVD and VCR and stereo equipment, naturally! An hour or so to clean the dust off and condition the vinyl and plastic - the result looks nearly brand new, as you can see from the photos. Used/refurbished ones on the Internet go for $1400 - $2200 plus shipping, though if you can find one locally, it should be under $900. Such a deal at $525 plus a couple hours driving! No warranty, but this is a sturdy commercial grade of bike and should do well for our purposes here at home.

This week I exercised first thing in the morning, per the pattern described above, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and today. Whilst on the bike, about 8 minutes warm-up, 20 minutes in the target heart range (140 plus/minus 4), and 5 minutes cool down, I am watching a PBS special about the history of baseball, kindly loaned to me by Steve Z. And during the cool-down period (off the bike), I was able to sit quietly and read my Morning Exercises book section for the day. No one to watch me change clothes, hear my grunts and groans, or disturb my quiet reflection and reading. Except for the exercise bit, it was heaven! And the exercise was not as taxing, since my attention was on the TV show except for frequent checks to ensure my heart rate was on target and to note the time elapsed. So while the enjoyability factor has not improved, the tolerability has increased dramatically. And I'm saving about half an hour per day for the entire process. Best of all, the dirty deed is accomplished early, and other than some afternoon tiredness, does not wear on me like the previous schedule. I can now declare the exercise to be a sustainable activity for me.

As for the tiredness that hammered me for two weeks post-BCG, it improves daily. I've started out by being more honest at work. When asked how I'm feeling, I reply,"I'm good. About 80% and faking the other 20%." That comment elicits about 50% cheerful responses and 50% odd looks. Call me hard hearted, but they should not ask if they don't want to know. I was fooling mostly myself by saying, "98% and no issues!" in the past, and it was starting to show in the quality of my output. I feel next week should be a piece of cake, and I will be back above 95% by the end of it. Of course the 5 day vacation next weekend should help - 2 nights in Carmel, California and two nights in San Francisco. Stay tuned for some great restaurant reviews on my other blog in the next couple of weeks!

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