Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Goldilocks Exercise

I’ve been thinking about exercise a lot lately. How valuable is it? How much is too much? What’s the minimum I should be doing? Can I get it in a pill?

Well, the last question is easy to answer. No. There’s no substitute for getting off your duff and moving your body – whether that be swimming or running or playing some sort of sport or even just walking. Actually, they’re now saying there are tremendous benefits to be had from crawling.

As for the first question, exercise is far more valuable than we thought it was even 20 years ago. From reducing heart disease (which we knew about) to diminishing the chances of acquiring Alzheimer’s and improving mental acuity (which we may have suspected but didn’t know), it gives us benefits to both body and mind.

As for the minimum amount we should do, current guidelines suggest we get 150 minutes of moderate activity a week – or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. When you think about it, 150 minutes isn’t very much out of 6,720 minutes (which is how many hours we’re awake per week if we get 8 hours of sleep a night. It’s a little over 20 minutes a day.

Why is that so hard for so many?

I suspect that some people have taken a break from exercise for several years, if not longer, and that any exercise beyond minimal walking results in soreness and nausea, among other discomforts. It’s painful to exercise when doing so makes you feel bad, especially if you’re not training for some goal (like the Olympics or even a “fun run”).

But if you keep putting it off, you’re only going to make it harder on yourself as your muscles grow weaker.

On the other hand, waiting to exercise until you’re older seems to have some benefits. For example, our bodies seem to have a limited number of movements available before they begin to break down. You cannot run marathons every year for 30 or 40 years unless you’ve been genetically blessed.

You cannot put strain on your joints every year for 40 or 50 years unless God has somehow given you perfect fluidity or recoverability or some sort of enviable ability to heal yourself. That’s why people who were very athletic when younger often have difficulty moving around when older. Their bodies did what they could for as long as they could and now they can’t perform at even an average level.

So how much is too much? Studies have shown that marathoners and people who engage in strenuous exercise often suffer kidney damage from dehydration. They also can have more heart problems than sedentary folks. They can even suffer from depression, exhaustion and serious injuries.

What we know is that doing nothing is bad. Exercising to excess is also bad. The answer, as usual, lies in moderation. Taking the Goldilocks approach. Do something every day unless you’re sick or injured, but don’t go overboard. Work different muscle groups. Combine aerobic and anaerobic (weightlifting, e.g.) workouts. Eventually you’ll find you feel better and you will (probably) live longer.

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