fitness · health · inclusiveness

In praise of everyday movement

“Let’s have a minute’s silence for all those Americans who are stuck in traffic on the way to a gym to ride a stationary bicycle!” – Congressman Earl Blumenauer

There are two different styles of exercisers, I think. Call them the “integrationists” and the “compartmentalizers.” Integrationists try to work physical activity into the fabric of their everyday lives. Compartmentalizers view physical activity as something special  and different, with a sharp beginning and end time.

If physical activity in your life always involves special clothes, and maybe driving someplace to start, and the activity has a sharp beginning and end time, then you’re a compartmentalizer.

And if you had a hard time answering Tracy’s question when it comes to fitness activities, “What counts?” you’re probably a fellow integrationist. A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy, is an integrationist extraordinaire. He wrote the book at a treadmill desk, incorporates short bursts of intense activity through his day, and literally runs his household errands.

While I only aspire to Jacobs’ level, generally speaking I’m an integrationist too and as much as possible I work physical activity into my life. I have other values in my life besides fitness, such as environmentalism, and integrating activity into my life serves those ends too.

I walk to the grocery store and carry heavy bags of groceries home. I ride my bike to and from work, when not ferrying teenagers. I sometimes jog with the dog rather than walking her. And if I have to go to a mall (shudder) I happily park my car far away from the entrance and walk in. The quote at the beginning of this article is on my Facebook wall under ‘favourite quotes.’

What do the compartmentalizers say in their defense? I’ve asked a few and gotten different responses. Disabilities require exercise modifications for some people and so working out is only really possible in a gym setting. But others want to arrive fresh at their workout, not all tired from walking up and down the stairs at the office.  They want a quality warm-up, not just a walk to the gym.

Some can only work out in a narrow band of temperatures. Summer is too hot, winter is too cold, and so they flee to the gym where it’s always 20 degrees. Turns out I’ve also raised a compartmentalizer. My  most active child is one. He argues he has lots of gear and sporting equipment to carry around but he also thinks that walking is simply dull.

Of course, I’ve also from time to time been serious about road bike training and racing and there being an integrationist hasn’t always served my ends so well. On the bright side, riding my bike to morning training was an excellent warm up and used to net me an extra 100 km a week. No small potatoes.  I also rode my bike to some races and there my experience varied. That worked well for short commutes and short races (I think it helps me with criterium racing) and not so well for longer distances. But I reasoned that I was  racing for fitness promoting reasons, not really to win, and so it was okay.

I once set out to ride 40 km to the start of a 60 km road race and then got a flat en route. And then a second flat. By then figured I’d miss the start. It was a race where the slower groups start first with the idea that we stood some chance of finishing all together and the faster grades rode in pursuit of the slower grades.  I think then I was in D grade, near the slowest. While fixing flat number two the A grade riders rolled up and helped and offered to ride with me to the start. I told them I didn’t have a chance of making it to the start in time since I was both a much slower rider and in virtue of that fact, started well ahead of them. Nah, they said, just hang on the back of our bunch and you’ll be right. I did and I made it to the start on time. I laughed later looking at the data from my bike computer. My heart rate was the same on the ride out to the start with the fast guys as it was in my race. The 40 km roll home was very slow!

I’ve had people look shocked when I roll up on my bike to the Running Room to go for a run. There isn’t a parking space to be had anywhere near that place on a Sunday morning, but why not? It’s not a race. I’m loathe to drive to a social run.

Which brings me to housework. I know many people who design their houses to avoid movement but then spend a fortune on exercise DVDs and gym memberships. I don’t get it. In my house, there’s the running argument about basement laundry versus 2nd floor laundry, a household improvement I’m loathe to support. “You’ll wear yourself out carrying hampers of clothes up and down those stairs,” people have been known to say. We live in a 3 story house with laundry in the basement. But why make a laundry easy and then go to the gym to lift weights? Also, I sit at a desk at work. People who have physically demanding jobs might need 2nd floor laundry, but not me. I haven’t quite extended this reasoning to all household chores but I’m on my way. Certainly, it’s made me view housework in a happier light.