I was running on our home treadmill, watching the Wimbledon finals, when a little voice began to insist I push myself. Usually, for my workout, I set the speed at a moderate pace of 8.5 kilometers per hour, but suddenly I had an urge to go faster. I tapped the dashboard. Nine KPH, then 9.5 KPH, then 10!!! I stayed in stride. It really wasn''t so hard. Only five minutes remained, so I kept tapping. Insanely. 10.5 KPH, 11, 11.5, 12. Usain Bolt! Whew…I made it! It felt great!
Then the same little voice reminded me that, before becoming too full of myself, I should cool down. So as I watched Andy Murray become the first British man in 77 years to win the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, I did some stretching. The TV had my full attention. As I flexed my left leg and rapidly raised it, I failed to notice its heading directly for the treadmill’s metal crossbar. The crossbar, of course, refused to budge. The result was, if not a literal “head-on” collision, a forebodingly loud crash.
Immediately, my knee tripled in size, taking on the color suggested by my favorite hard-rock band, Deep Purple. The inflammatory cascade in my thigh scoffed at my applications of ice. The swelling had no intention of being stopped.
Three days later, an ultrasound revealed a 6 x 4 mm tear in one of the quadriceps muscles. (Vastus Medialis, to be precise.)
The orthopedist kept telling me how lucky I was then wagged his finger to emphasize his four-week prohibition against running. People at work and at home, both, seemed to have clear ideas of what I could do (for them) with the extra hour that had become available in my day. After their good-natured suggestions brought no cheer, I realized that I was feeling “down.” Unlike those who regard physical fitness as obligatory drudgery, I like exercise. In contrast to gardening, carpentry, and electrical work, exercise is a household chore that I don''t outsource. I thought about why I enjoy it.
Readers of this blog may have observed that competitiveness is part of my nature. I may be too old to engage in competitive sports against others, but there''s still plenty of joy in competing against myself. That, of course, had been part of my motivation in cranking up the treadmill speed. Nonetheless, I like the personal-best challenges inherent in exercise.
And exercise--particularly swimming--clears my head. Some may find that lap-swimming bores them, but for me, to enter a pool is to return to a primordial state. I love the contrast of exerting myself while carrying out proper stroke mechanics and being enveloped by water and solitude. I''m convinced that, just as with meditation techniques that emphasize breathing, the rhythmic aspect of the swimmer''s inhaling and exhaling contributes to psychological well-being.
And no doubt we''ve all gotten the message about the physiologic benefits of exercise. I''ve read much of that literature and feel positive about a scientific evidence-base for asserting that exercise boosts energy and decreases risks of developing diabetes and hypertension, not to mention certain cancers. Body image tends to improve as well. Yet I can''t say that those benefits are my primary drivers.
There’s also a spiritual rationale for exercising. The body is the carriage for the soul. If indeed exercise keeps us fit and makes us healthier, then by strengthening ourselves – perhaps even extending our lives – we are indirectly caring for our souls and enabling a sense of meaning in our lives.
But for me, there''s something even more fundamental than all of that. A recently published study by investigators at the University of Missouri showed that laboratory rats could be bred to like or dislike exercise, the implication being that we are genetically programmed to be motivated or put off by exercise. My dad, who "lettered" in boxing and track at City College in New York, seems to have passed down those DNA strands to my siblings and me. All of us are mildly obsessed with being active.
I don’t know, though, whether I’m biologically wired to enjoy exercise or whether I’ve intellectually convinced myself of its value, but the sudden absence of exercise in my life has led me to realize that it’s something I want to do. In that realization, I think, lies a message that applies beyond the subject of exercise. Time is precious. How we spend it matters.
So, during the weeks while I can’t exercise, one thing that I can do is to take inventory of how I spend the precious moments of my life. I can verify that things which I truly like to do, have adequate representation. Maybe even over-representation.
Can''t wait to return to my exercise routine! Only three weeks to go (although 12 KPH is unlikely to appear on my dashboard in the near future).
Until next Monday, Shalom.