January 25th, 2006


Immeasuable Progress, or, Why Do I Exercise, Anyway?

prester_scott left a comment that brought this question to mind. I've been thinking of writing this post since then, but I haven't because I've been busy writing fiction instead. I've kept up with my post-a-day in unfinishedtales so far, but today may break my streak. I haven't started an entry for it yet and my mind is going "zrt?" at the thought.

So, I'll write about exercise instead.*

There is no single goal of exercise that is sufficient to make me devote time to it. For me, exercise always has to contribute to a multitude of goals, preferably all at the same time. If I'm only getting one thing out of it, that thing is inevitably not going to be enough. I can't stretch just to become more flexible, because I don't care that much about being flexible. I can't walk just to lose weight, because I don't much mind being pudgy.

So instead of focusing on a single goal, I have a sort of mental list of motivators. Lemme see if I can list them out.

  • Long-term health

  • Appearance

  • Weight loss

  • Balance

  • Grace

  • Flexibility

  • Coordination

  • Lowered stress

  • Sense of accomplishment

Hmm. Yeah, that's about all I can think of right now.

Of these, the first one should be the biggest motivator, since that's the one that will impact the quality and quantity of my entire life. But exercising today so that I don't have a heart attack in thirty years is rather like saving for retirement: yes, it's a good idea, and yes, I can get myself to do it, but it's sorely lacking on the immediate-gratification front. Still, as I understand it, my present level of exercise is sufficent to improve my long-term health. You don't have to an athelete to have a good cardiovascular system. Actually, the impression I get is that true atheletes lose some of the long-term health benefits of fitness, by pushing their bodies so hard that things break or fail.

I'm sufficiently vain (like you didn't know) that improving my appearance is probably the biggest factor for me. It's also the area that I've had the least progress in, at least from my perspective. To me, I look pretty much the same now as I did last May. I weigh about the same, my measurements have only gone down a bit, and the clothes that didn't fit before still don't fit now.

Weight loss isn't that important to me. I'm 5'2" or 3" and I weigh about 135 lbs. So I'm on the heavy side for my height, but I'm still within the "normal" range of BMI. It'd be nice to be a little lighter but it's not a health issue for me. On the other hand, weight maintenance is a health issue. When I've been ignoring my weight, I've gotten as heavy as 153 lbs. The women of my family tend to be heavy. So if I don't do something -- diet or exercise -- I will gain weight. In that sense, just staying in place is something of a victory, even if it doesn't feel that way.

The middle three -- grace, flexibility, coordination -- amount to "I always wanted to be able to dance/move well." I'm not an especially good dancer, but I have improved over the last several months. I'm not sure if this has plateau'd or not. I know that I haven't been making much progress in learning new moves in the last few months, since I've been more focused on getting a good workout than doing something different. To some degree, this goal is at odds with the "fitness" goal. Executing moves skillfully requires care and concentration, while for a good workout doing them faster is more useful. Still, there's significant overlap, and I think if I keep doing it for years I'm likely to improve. Certainly my balance and flexibility have both improved measurably.

The last two are something of the bonus goals. I didn't expect them but it works out that way. Exercising does distract me from my problems and lower my stress. And it makes me feel productive. Yeah! Exercised again today!

Anyway, all of these together add up to why I'm not so much concerned about the lack of concrete improvement that I (as opposed to Lut or John) can discern. And why I deliberately made my goal for 2006 lower than what I plan to do. With a goal I know I can achieve, I'll almost certainly stick with it. If I set the bar higher, I could get disheartened and give up on the whole business -- especially if setting the bar higher still didn't achieve measurable results. And committing even more time to exercise isn't happening. I have enough trouble squeezing everything I want to do in my life already.

Like writing a UT entry tonight, for example. Hrm.

On the other hand, I have been trying to push myself to work harder when I'm exercising, doing more moves in the same space of time. But like so much else, it's hard for me to measure how well I'm achieving it. So I'll stick with the clock for verifying my level commitment. Watching minutes go past is a skill I've got down pat.

* I actually wrote this last night, it just didn't get posted until today. I'm hoping to get today's UT entry up a bit earlier than yesterday's, which didn't go up until after 11PM.