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The Futility Of Exercise

You would think that, as skinny as I am, I would be an exercise aficionado.

Hold on. Gotta clear something up before I go on. I can call myself “skinny,’ but if you call me skinny, I’ll be offended. Unless you’re skinny yourself.

Just like it’s not P.C. to call an overweight person fat…unless you’re fat (pardon, I mean overweight) yourself. So, dear reader, you call me “thin” or “slender” or “petite.” K?

All righty then. Digression over. 😉

You’d think by looking at me that I loved to exercise.

You’d think wrong.

There’s nothing I despise more than forcing my heart to pound in my chest while working up a terrible sweat. All that, plus I get nothing accomplished in the process.

Yeah, yeah, okay, I build up muscle and bone mass and supposedly make my heart stronger and help my cells detox.

What I mean is I don’t get anything on my to-do list done. In fact, exercise is an extra addition to my to-do list. And though I’m generally a world-class misfit, one thing I have in common to most people is that I don’t like having an eternal to-do list.

I’m not a couch potato. Far from it. I prefer being active most of the day to sitting or lying down most of the day. But being active with a purpose is not the same as “getting exercise.”

As much as I despise exercise, however, I’ve been a good girl and done some semblance of it on a regular basis since forever. I was thrilled this past fall when I discovered that doing nine minutes of interval training brought almost the same health benefits as forty-five minutes of jogging. So I began doing this, power-walk for two minutes, run like a crazy woman for twenty seconds, repeat twice more ending the exercise time with two minutes of progressively slower walking.

My resting heart rate went from seventy-two beats per minute down to sixty (even a bit lower). Wow! That meant my heart was in great shape, right? So I should keep that up, right?

Reality hits

Then came gardening season. And our typical two-week transition from spring to summer. What I mean is that by the time the first round of strawberries was ready to harvest, it was already getting hot. By the time the goumis were ripe the second week of May, we were regularly hitting temperatures between 85 and 90 degrees. And as is typical here in April and May, we were having a lot of rain, so we were experiencing our typical high humidity.

Besides picking berries I had other gardening tasks to accomplish. In 85+ degrees and 75+ percent relative humidity.

Let me break it down for you: After working outside in the heat and humidity, I do not feel like exercising.

So I have not felt like exercising the past few weeks. Not the nasty interval training, anyway. Swimming and kayaking? Bring them on! But in my opinion, activities that you enjoy don’t count as exercise. That’s why they’re called “recreational.” They refresh your creativity because they’re fun.

But we don’t go to the lake often enough for those activities to keep my heart rate down.

Low heart rate: the be all, end all for health and longevity?

All this time, in the back of my mind was niggling the conclusion to a Dr. Greger video I saw sometime last year, that people who eat a strictly plant-based diet and do only moderate exercise reduce their risk of cancer as much as somebody who eats a more standard diet and exercises one to two hours a day.

Could that be generalized to most other types of diseases, as well?

And according to Dan Buettner of “Blue Zones” fame, the areas of the world with the highest concentration of centenarians don’t purposely do work-outs. They don’t spend a half-hour jogging, then a half-hour lifting weights. BUT…

They are active all day long. They walk a lot – often in hilly areas. They work out in their fields or gardens. They often have fewer modern conveniences, like washing machines and dishwashers, so they have more manual labor built into their lives.

I did a couple of searches, trying to see if anybody online had any record of the average heart rate of centenarians in general, or of people who live in the Blue Zones.

Zero, zip, nada is what I got. Except a growing idea that maybe, possibly, working to lower one’s heart rate isn’t all the professional cyclists and runners make it out to be.

The plot (not arterial plaque!) thickens

During this search, I unearthed quite the intriguing article online. It’s about centenarians in general, not just those in the Blue Zones, and reveals that for the most part, among the people who make it to 100 years old there are proportionately as many people who drink, smoke, and don’t exercise as there are among the population that does not make it past age 85.

Neither I nor the author of that article is endorsing a lifestyle of bad habits. First of all, chances are good that some of the centenarians surveyed were laid up in nursing homes, had developed some level of dementia, or were struggling with some health issues. The centenarians (and “younger” elderly people) living in the Blue Zones are, for the most part, without life-threatening or mentally incapacitating problems.

Second, you can’t play Russian roulette with your gene pool if you’re serious about avoiding disease.

Still, the article gave me pause. Kept me searching.

Until I found this article about heart rate on WebMD. Basically, it says that your heart rate is not a cut-and-dry good measure of how healthy or fit you are. I knew that at some level. A runner can have a low heart rate but bad eating habits that eventually cause heart failure. The article also says that most people free of heart disease have no need to keep track of their heart rate, resting or otherwise.

My epiphany

And then it hit me like a runaway train:

Any good that my exercising has done me has likely been cancelled out over my stressing out over my heart rate.

My decision

To be sure I keep building bone mass, I will take little sprints throughout the day most days. Other than that, on days when I am naturally active most of the day because I have a lot of chores to do, I’m not going to sweat (pun intended) the exercise issue.

When it’s too cold to be outside, I’ll probably go back to interval training three times a week. Or maybe I’ll just walk around the house all day. Because as much as athletic older people want to make you think that two hours a day of intense exercise is what has kept them alive and healthy, one of the oldest people on record – a 123-year-old man – attributed his longevity to several hours a day of just plain old walking.

Be active, eat healthy, and don’t stress about the hundreds of (often conflicting) rules about health and fitness there are to follow. (Watch this video for my answer to all the diet fads out there.)

Follow your gut instinct and common sense.

Catch ya later. Unless, of course, you’re running.

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