Making Exercise Fun
Health Guide February 21, 2008
Fun exercise is not a contradiction in terms. It's not an oxymoron, which means sharp dull. So the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron. But fun exercise isn't.
It might seem like that at first. It sure was for me, the original couch potato. Even bending over to pick up the daily newspaper was too difficult for me without a tool that grabbed it for me. My legs were so weak that I had to use my hands to get up from my easy chair or to get off the pot.
But exercise grows on you if you start small and slow to give yourself some initial successes. It eventually becomes a positive addition, where it's not fun to not exercise.
Good thing too. Because unless we make exercise fun, we won't exercise.
That's not something we can allow. Getting a lot of regular exercise is absolutely essential for controlling our diabetes.
Not too long ago, when I entered Rocky Mountain National Park, the ranger said to me, "Have fun." I was startled. At that time I had always thought of my hikes in the park as a workout and never as fun.
I do now. In fact, I now make it my practice to say to people I meet on the trail, "Have fun."
Many people say that exercise is both the hardest and most important control tool we have. I know that it's right up there with good nutrition and weight loss.
What else is there for controlling our diabetes? At first, only one other tool -- medication. But ideally we control our diabetes without any drugs, all of which have unwanted side effects.
Many people with type 2 diabetes can eventually control their diabetes with exercise and diet alone. For some of us that can be enough incentive to get started down the exercise path.
Everyone needs different exercises, which strengthen different muscles. If diabetes has already made hiking or even a short walk too difficult for you, the best alternative can be using the pool for water aerobics and swimming. If you live in a huge metropolitan area, finding nearby mountain trails for your regular exercise can be out of the question.
Another type of exercise that all of us -- particularly those as old as I am -- need is to improve our balance. This exercise takes only a minute or so at a time and is a lot more fun when we have to wait on something than twiddling our thumbs.
And what you love to do is almost certainly different from what I love to do. But there are exercises that you like and can grow to love.
The trouble is that getting started on a regular exercise program can be daunting. It's hard to literally get up off of the couch or easy chair and take control of your life. But each time you do that it gets easier, and eventually it gets easier and more fun to exercise than not to exercise.
We all need challenges in every aspect of our lives to prevent the dread boredom from setting in and killing our will to experience the new. But I know from my own experience that every time I step up to a new challenge I get a twinge of fear that I may not be able to do it.
"A little anxiety is a good thing," my favorite Certified Diabetes Educator tells me. "It makes you cautious." It also pumps up those hormones that give you the energy you need to meet your newly set challenge.
I get my exercise challenges by walking or hiking a little longer and faster. Or by working out at a greater speed or for more minutes on the treadmill.
But I need a lot of variety in my life. We all need this variety, although my guess is that I need more than most folks. This makes it a darn good thing that I am a journalist, where I can and must write about something different every day. Likewise, I crave new and different places to exercise and indeed new and different exercises all the time.
Variety is probably why I love to hike so much. In fact, I make a point of going out to hike on a new or longer segment of the trail whenever I can. But even well known trails can bring surprises, especially with the changes of the seasons and chance encounters with wildlife.
I capitalize on that variety by always carrying a small digital camera with me on my hikes. This encourages me to be on the lookout for something new. I always try to send a beautiful photograph from my hikes along with a trip report to my family and friends.
But unless you are blessed by as many wonderful trails as I am around my home in Boulder, Colorado, you might not find enough variety. Even here I am close to running out of new and beautiful trails for my usual day hikes.
This problem reminded me of the boredom solution of my younger days -- backpacking on much longer trails for up to five or six days at a time. Since I no longer had my backpack, sleeping bag, and tent, I recently bought all of that equipment as well as necessary supplies like a portable water filtration device for the sake of my health.
As soon as the weather in the Rockies allows, I will be using this gear. Meanwhile, I added another exercise to my bag of health tricks -- snowshoeing. And just this week I made my first decent (four hour) snowshoe trek in the Rockies.
But next for my exercise variety is cycling. I just bought a hybrid bike for riding both in town and on the less extreme foothill and mountain trails.
I have finally started to do some resistance training. I know how important it is after reading and writing a lot about it.
But resistance training -- working out with weights -- had always seemed boring to me. So I use whatever strategies I can think of to overcome that boredom, primarily by listening to music and books on my iPod.
Who knows what types of exercises this 72-year-old man will take up after that!
For all of us carving out enough time and emotional energy to start an exercise program is the basic problem. When I go on long hikes, the way I think about my time on the trail away from my work is that this is finally the time that I am taking for ME.
Like most people, I am at the beck and call of others. For me, it's mostly my editors and email correspondents. I do take great pleasured in helping others, but I can temporarily escape from all of them when I'm on a long hike.
I need that. It's the way that I balance my life and clear my brain. Ironically, I get some of my best ideas on the trail when I am not trying to think.
For other people, walking or hiking can be a pleasant social experience if you go with a friend. I usually hike alone, but when a friend hikes with me, the conversation makes the time pass quickly.
Whatever your preferences, your challenge has to be to find the right kind and mix of exercise to keep it fun for you. Unless you make it fun in whatever way works for you, you won't keep it up for life. And as my favorite endocrinologist, Dr. Joe Prendergast, always says, "It's your time."