Thursday, 23 June 2011


Walking the dog this morning I found myself contemplating exercise once more. Should I do it? Has it really come to that? What kind could I possibly bear to do? I am deeply ambivalent towards exercise. I don't think it has done me any favours, most of the time. It usually makes me fatter, because of all the food I have to eat to reward myself for putting me through the torment and humiliation. I am not a natural athlete, and latterly, I have not been even an unnatural athlete. I have reclassified dog walking as exercise, even if I only saunter to the park and sit on a bench playing with my phone while the dog tries to sexually harass twigs and bracken and so on.

My attitude to exercise through the ages:

4 - 8 The Golden Years

Undisputed school beanbag- on - head race champion. Constant needling rivalry with Rachael Pool for the "running race" crown, like the Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis of Park Grove Primary. When we came together, thrillingly, inconceivably, in the three-legged race, sparks flew. We TRAINED for that race. All year. Also: gymnastics. Good, but not brilliant. Spent most of 7th year in a headstand. All photographs of me during that year feature me upside down - on roadsides, at home, in restaurants.

8-11 The Pony Years

If it didn't have fetlocks, I didn't want to know. Ok, this is embarassing, but during one of these years, there was a slightly disturbed but very strong Eastern European girl at our primary school who was my substitute pony when I couldn't get on a real one. She would give me endless piggy backs round the playground while I pretended we were doing olympic dressage, or doing the Hickstead Grand Prix. This is also the period during which I trained our rabbit to showjump over poles in the garden. I am not proud of that either. Dark, dark times.

11-16 The Remedial Years

It sure as hell didn't get any better next, when puberty fucked with my centre of gravity, co-ordination, spatial awareness and sense of self. School games was the torture most of you, I imagine, know and remember, compounded for me by the strange physical law that if there was a ball within 800 yards of me, it WOULD hit me on the back of the head. Repeated humiliation at the hands of the more able, the windswept hockey tundra a two mile trudge from the school, horribly constricting blue nylon knickers, tiny pleated nylon skirts, smelly changing rooms, punishments for forgotten kit, small, hard, balls on mysterious trajectories and the icy fetid menace of the concrete mortuary that was the Skool Pool. If Jean-Paul Sartre had been required to do Games, he would have revised his estimation of exactly what hell is.

Things improved slightly when our games mistress, frustrated at the unteachable crapness of me and my friends decided to introduce streaming in PE. We, the "bottom set", the fat ones, the dyspraxic ones, the speccy ones with overly long limbs, the tiny misshapen shrimpy ones, all of us, were herded into a netball court with the correspondingly remedial boys, given a couple of poorly inflated netballs and abandoned. We might have been socially untouchable, but at least we didn't need shin pads any more. It was brilliant, and excellent preparation for....

16-18 The Refusenik Years

This was the time when not liking exercise became socially acceptable, thank GOD. Wednesday afternoon was a cue to hole up in the common room eating Mother's Pride and Nutella and watching Australian soap operas right up until we were already slightly late for games, then dawdle so slowly up to the hockey tundra wearing various shockingly non-regulation items of clothing such as cycling shorts (sorry, it was the early '90s, we knew no better), get bollocked for being late, stand for 15 minutes in the corner of the field flicking our fringes and rollling our eyes, then dawdle back. Happy, happy days.

18-20 The 'Can't Remember' Years

I can't remember what exercise I did at this point in my life, but 'none' would be a safe assumption.

21 - 23 The Oxford Mental Years

At Oxford, I descended rapidly into food related lunacy and lost my hair, living on Marks & Spencer's low calorie prepared vegetable selections and reading "Zest" magazine for tips on fat free treats, juice fasts and cellulite treatments. I variously walked for miles, swam and ran with no shred of pleasure, purely for the weight loss benefits (dubious). The swimming was the worst. I hate swimming at the best of times and the dismal lengths up and down the swimming pool slow lane with all the other aquatic losers when all my peers were off cheerily drinking were particularly tragic.

24 - 26 The London Mental Years

Greater income and opportunity in London meant I could extend my exercise lunacy to the gym and yoga classes on top of endless running. This is the period in my life when it was entirely within the bounds of possibility that I would run to the gym four times a week, THEN work out, and then roller blade and do hours of yoga on Sundays. Mental, and a bit sad really.

26-31 The Baby Years

Yeah, I didn't really bother once I had babies, it just sort of petered out into nothing. I persisted with the lunacy for as long as I could during my first pregnancy, lots of swimming and yoga, but once I had actually had the baby I did try and go to a yoga class a couple of weeks post-partum and got sent home. But after that, I just surrendered to the grinding exhaustion and more consoling pursuit of eating cake. Oh, I did do Pilates in my second pregnancy, but that was just a couple of hours a week in between intensive cake eating bouts. When we moved to Paris, my knee got fucked up too, which gave me a cast iron excuse never to exercise again, or so I have interpreted it. I had it operated on and everything. "I have a bad knee!" became my excuse for everything. It still is. No, I can't take the bins out, I have a bad knee. No, I can't do my accounts, my knee is smarting.

31 - 32 The New Insanity Year

Having slipped off the sanity wagon again, and considering a bowl of miso soup adequate nourishment for the day, I went back to exercise at this point. For a year or so, my neighbour and I shared a personal trainer. Weirdly, I quite enjoyed this. I liked getting muscles in my arms from the boxing, liked having someone to push me harder than I would ever push myself, liked showing off balancing on bouncy balls. Once I had started eating again, but was still exercising, I had the best body I have ever had, definitely. It was noticeably good, defined, hard. HOWEVER:

32 - Present day: The Can't Be Arsed Years

The very second we moved, and I didn't have the personal trainer any more, I felt nothing so much as relief. "Oh good, I don't have to get up at 6 and put lycra on anymore" was the sum total of my thoughts on the subject. I didn't miss it a shred, and I have not missed it since. I miss looking good, but I know that to look good again, I would have to eat about half as much as I currently do AND exercise, because otherwise, all that happens is my thighs become terrifyingly vast. I can't. My brain can't bear to go that loopy again and my body can't be bothered. Also, I have a bad knee. Fingers has taken to amusing himself with my long abandoned 3 kg medicine ball.

"Medicine ball. Pourquoi ├ža s'appele medicine ball?"

"Because it is as bad as medicine. Now please don't drop it on my toe again".

I don't know. Can I continue to pretend that walking the dog is exercise? Why can't I just pay someone to take my body away and bring me back a better one? Meh, I say. Meh.

How do you feel about exercise? Can you be bothered?


cruella said...

Walk 6 miles very fast at least once a day w/ dog = exercise. Otherwise false excuse.

Do things with dumbells at home. Plus 50 crunches.


Rebecca said...

Walking the dog is exercise. Has to be better for you than 45 mins on the sofa right? You have a lovely body anyway, and don't need to change it unless you have new career plans in being a supermodel or something.

But if you insist, 'The Shred' is good. It's a video that tells you what to do and takes 20mins. And it's only £5.99 from Amazon.

fd said...

slightly terrified to make any comment as exercise and your sanity seem to be a little linked.
it sounds like you like walking and it doesn't make you mental.
it sounds like you like the stuff that makes you feel strong and powerful.
i would focus on those (good news is: they're cheap).
make exercise for health and strength (not weightloss).

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

My greyhound is 15 and can only hobble a hundred yards but I count that as exercise and so should you.

I am so glad you got better. It gives me hope for people I know who are still all miso soupy.

Anonymous said...

I went to school in Scotland - every fucking winter term we had to learn Scottish country dancing in school sport can imagine it - awkward pubescent girls lined up on one side of the room and awkward pubescent boys on the other side: "choose a partner" was dreadful.

I do like a good ceilidh these days though....once every 5 years or so.

Z said...

When I was a child, I was a horse, every minute that I wasn't a dog.
I loathed school games - the team ones, that is. I liked throwing things as long as they weren't balls. I was useless at running, but liked long jump.

I have continued to enjoy tennis and used to play a lot when my children were about. Now the court languishes, unloved. I used to like walking until I got an arthritic hip. Then I took up cycling for dutiful exercise. I shall never enjoy it, but it gets me about and makes me feel less of a slob. The best thing about having needed a replacement hip is that I am not allowed to run, ever again. Too jarring, it would wear it out.

Raptor said...

I became an expert at avoiding exercise when I was at school. Aged 15 I swore never to go to a P.E. lesson again after finally getting fed up of people deliberately kicking balls at my head every week. I became so efficient at finding hiding places and not getting caught that eventually I developed a band of Skiving Companions, which at one point included my Chemistry teacher who didn't want to teach bottom set Year 9.

Patience_Crabstick said...

HATE organized sports for children. I always failed miserably in gym class. Then in college I discovered rowing, which was mainly a way to meet cute boys, but had the side effect of turning me into an athlete. Now I mostly run, but I enjoy it. I put on my ipod and my "don't f*ck with me" face and let my mind wander as I pound the pavement.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

The last time I was in what I would consider to be "excellent" shape was right after our daughter was born. It was a problem-free pregnancy; I actually LOST weight (which husband & I celebrated with hot fudge sundaes). After, I weighed what I had in my "svelte" university years & gained discernible muscles in my arms (I believe that's called "definition"!?!) with all the lifting & carrying which ensued.
Nine months later I had returned to my pre-birth (& porky) weight (excessive chocolate consumption daily can do that!). Only in retrospect did it become abundantly clear that this was the last time I would get such a "gift"!
Handwriting on the wall (er...internet): the older you get, the easier it is to gain, the more difficult to lose. You don't even have to eat to gain weight (in my experience anyway. Looking in the bakery window in passing usually adds a kilo!).
A (hopefully) bright note: Walking briskly non-stop for one hour a day CAN make a difference. When (operative word that) I do it, everything tightens up, clothing fits better, I feel better. You need to move and do the time. Fortunately, it doesn't involve tremendous expense (just a decent pair of shoes), fancy outfits & joining a gym filled with sleek, toned bodies. The hard part is...simply doing it.
Daughter just turned 23 the other day. That's how long this "landslide" has been going on...

kath said...

I go a bit bonkers if I don't exercise. I drink less, sleep more, eat better, don't get anxious and am generally far nicer if I have run about in the woods for an hour.

The only downside is it takes up lots of time and I tend to overdo it and the consequent misery at enforced rest is grim.

Once enormopup is fully grown I will take him with me. Am looking forward to leaping out from behind bushes with a gigantic black wolf.

The Shred will KILL you. Jillian is fearsome.

kath said...

oh and I avoided PE so successfully at school that when I was naughty and put on report I turned up in the gym and wasn't on the register.

Product Pixie said...

I joined a gym last year and the main activity during my visits (once a fortnight at best) was just to sit on the Power Plate machine and pretend to stretch my arms a bit.

I believed that the sitting on it would aid in shrinking and toning my arse. Which it sort of did.

I also took the stairs instead of the lift a few weeks ago.

That is all I have to say about exercise. It's pretty overrated and fucks with your joints/boobs/face.

momosyllabic said...

You must stop asking these questions; I am far too prone to giving honest answers.

Having had some insanity years in the food/exercise department myself, this is my current regimen. Which SEEMS to be sane to me:

I can't do anything that causes me physical/ mental pain (no RUNNING or AEROBICS or, god forbid, anything that happens in a gymn).
I count the dog walk, and other incidental walking, and my mild, self-led yoga practice, and having the children throw things at me while outside. I aim for an hour in total of "activity" a day, everyday and usually do about 45mins once you add all the bits together. I seem to have some muscle tone and no obvious diseases, so I think it's working.

I do think I should be exercising more BUT then there was that great bit of research which suggested too-vigorous cardio causes tears in your heart muscle. MM.

Frances said...

Brilliant post! Nothing I like better than reading about how shit exercise is - reaffirms my faith in cake!

Jane said...

If you hated exercise at school, as I did, you might like, as I do.

Mrs Jones said...

There you are, missus - Product Pixie has your answer - all you need is a Power Plate machine! You can just stand on it and it vibrates all your fat away.

I was diagnosed with high blood pressure about a month ago and, being a confirmed couch lover myself, vowed to actually 'do' something about it as I didn't fancy a lifetime of having to take statins with their 'funny' side effects. So I took up running - or, more realistically, shambling - and a blood pressure monitor and it seemed to do the trick. But then I got a stomach bug, and then the painters came to do the outside of our house for a week, and then it started raining and hasn't stopped, all of which have conspired to keep me back on the sofa for the last month or so. Rather weirdly, though, my blood pressure has remained normal, so am in quandary about starting again. No, I'm a fool to myself, I'm going to go out in about five minutes to start shambling again...

Miss Underscore said...

I am not sure if dog walking IS exercise. However, the presence of handsome, sneering, Mr Darcy type walking his obligatory brown labrador in the park while I am exercising my lunatic lurchers has made me consider a new diet.

(I am only considering it mind.)

Johnners said...

Another lovely piece of evocative writing, took my immediately back to horrific changing rooms and soggy school fields, whipped by freezing north winds. Thank you!

I hate exercise, but I occasionally do it, and once I do then I usually do some more, until I hurt myself, or something comes up, or I can't get out to do it for some reason. And then it stops, I stop, and I turn back into Jabba the Hut. Circle of life?

Miss Underscore said...

I tell you what is really tragic I HAVE TO TEACH PE!!!! (We play a lot of rounders, it is really the only sport I know how to play).

MargotLeadbetter said...

I foolishly believed exercise was the answer to all my problems. I am not fat exactly, but I have 'problem areas' (I should probably have spelled that 'arse') and I am not toned at all.

I started swimming 50 lengths 3 times a week recently. I cannot honestly say it has made much difference at all to my body. The only changes are that I am even hungrier than usual, and a bit smug (but not very).

seminch said...

I can still muster up the smell of my green airtex top and white pumps from my PE bag at will.......not that I want to.
And realising if I did not join my local gym then I could not go, I signed up and paid up and have yet to visit on one occasion. Not proud or clever.

seminch said...

By the way that 2years and three months I've been paying! fool me once etc.etc.

Em said...

I belong to a gym. I pay $75 a month to use their car park if I go into the city. For lunch.

Anonymous said...

One word pro exercise: endorphins... facepasta never no more, no never again... (slight insanity due to excess cycling)

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Sewmouse said...

Occasionally I get the urge to exercise.

Usually I go have a nice lie-down for an hour or two and it goes away.

Anonymous said...

I've gone through phases of exercise and not - best body ever in my late 20s when I briefly took up rowing. I wish there were more pictures :)
I'm 20 pounds beyond that perfect moment, and have a closet half full of too-tight clothes. sigh.
So I go to the gym once or twice a week, do an hour of cardio, lift weights, etc. If nothing else, it has a lovely mental health benefit. Which is a help when I read fashion blogs and learn new descriptions for fatness (ex: fupa).

Margaret said...

Two things: (1) I always thought it was awful that the English call gym/PE "games." Aren't games supposed to be fun? Like tag or Monopoly? (2) The Anti-American guy's comment was shockingly free of grammar and spelling errors. Bravo, you sexist son-of-a-bitch!

anx said...

I've been through several incarnations exercise-wise:

Child: good at netball and gymnastics, slim and long-legged.

Adolescent: generally lazy but still reasonably slim

Student: walked a lot but starting to get quite "big boned"

20 - 30: sedentary office job, walked to work (25 mins each way). Became gradually bigger but "carried it" reasonably well due to sheer height.

30 - 34: running 3 times a week (lost a couple of stone/dress sizes)

34 - 35: enforced inactivity due to sudden illness and steroid based weight gain

35 - 39: swimming, gym, running, rolling around with large inflatable balls, doing the "plank"

Though the single thing that made the biggest difference to me in recent years was changing my diet to a low carb regime (based on the Paleo diet). Have lost 3 stone and 2-3 dress sizes and feel good

But from the photos of you I've seen, I'm probably still fatter than you. So there.

Cary said...

I've found the trick is to find something that I don't really consider exercise which is why biking to work has turned out so well. Great exercise and the endorphin rush isn't bad either.

kath again said...

This'll get you in the pool.