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Since daily life is so cushy, we have to invent ways to keep our bodies in shape ... and most of them are pretty ridiculous

CLIP ART GRAPHIC - These days, I run to stay in shape, even though nothing is ever chasing me.

I had to take a break from my running regimen recently. My tired old legs turned against me, crying out in pain, begging me not to jog another step. My first thought – great, now what am I supposed to do to stay in shape?

Fitness is weird – not the actual status of good physical health, but the things we do to achieve fitness. Ever spend time on a treadmill or a rowing machine? How many of you have taken a spin on a stationary bike or tried to keep up with an aerobics instructor?

These activities have become necessary because our daily lives have left many of us spoiled. Gone are the days of having to walk from place to place. Farming and ranching have become industries, not a daily means of putting food on the family table. We don't even have to get up off the couch to change the TV channel anymore.

Day-to-day life involves a lot more sitting and access to more food than we can ever hope to consume. On the one hand, it's pretty awesome, right? Come home from a long day's work, plop down on the sofa, rip open a bag of chips and enjoy some down time.

But things that are "pretty awesome" tend to produce some not-so-awesome consequences. Clothes get snug. Fun and games lead to muscle aches and Tylenol. Heading up a flight of stairs causes labored breaths. Next thing you know, you're sitting on the second-to-last step, watching your tired breaths stretch your tight-fitting T-shirt. You brush the Doritos crumbs from your lap and utter some dangerous words: "I need to get back in shape."

The good news is options are plentiful. You can walk, skip or gallop to a fitter you. You can lunge or squat or crunch. You can sit down and do sit-ups … then lay down, roll over and do push-ups. Instead of burping, you could try some burpees … whatever those are.

I personally chose running as my fitness activity, in part because it is something familiar from my high school athletics days and also because it is one of the few physical activities I am coordinated enough to do accurately. It works pretty well when I stick to it – the clothes still fit, and I have as much energy as can be expected from someone entering midlife.

But some people would pick running as their last physical fitness option – unless a bear is chasing them. They would probably rather play basketball … with a flat ball … in the snow … naked … with saran wrap covering the rim. I once worked with a guy whose son had an epiphany about running as a pastime: "Why would I run for a sport? Running is what coaches in other sports use to punish their players." Touché.

Perhaps an exchange in "Back to the Future III" best sums up how most people feel about running. For those who haven't seen it, Doc Brown is back in 1885 at an Old West saloon, telling some old-timers about how the future will have horseless carriages called automobiles. One of the old-timers ponders this for a moment, then asks, "If everyone in the future has one of these automo-whatsits, does anyone walk or run anymore?" Doc Brown replies that they do indeed still run – but for recreation, for fun. "Run for fun?" the old timer shot back. "What the hell kind of fun is that?" Indeed.

Us runners, we are an odd breed, but it goes beyond our decision to run for miles and miles when nothing is chasing us. We also choose to hit the trails regardless of weather. I have often found myself trotting along, a couple miles from home, wind-blown snowflakes pelting my face, wondering why I couldn't pick a more sensible way to stay fit – like bowling. If that isn't crazy enough, you should check out runner fashion. I'll tell you this, there is no other setting in life where I would wear tights, short shorts and wildly colorful sneakers.

Of course, running isn't the only example of the strange things we will do to stay fit. Some people will gather at an athletic club, blast the music and dance in place or repeatedly hit or kick an imaginary opponent – and you should see what those guys are wearing when they do it. Let's just say the spandex industry is thriving.

Not far from those guys, in another corner of the athletic club, are the weightlifters. What these folks do is about as productive as running for fun. Imagine lifting a heavy object several times in a row only to set it down, wait a few moments, then do the same thing again. It's like moving heavy furniture … only it ends up in the same place every time.

This, folks, is what it has come to in this modern, technology-blessed 21st Century. Daily life has gotten so cushy and comfortable that we have to manufacture these ridiculous activities to stay in shape. This is modern fitness.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to put on my tights and go on a run … my shirt's getting a bit too snug.


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