Sunday, July 30, 2006

Joys of exercise
July 29, 2006

I’ve been sitting in front of the keyboard for more than half an hour now, trying to come up with a way to talk about physical activity that conveys - without sounding preachy - what a fine, fine thing it is to have in your life. It’s not easy.
Exercise has had the misfortune of being linked in a beneficial way to so many health issues that it’s now one of those “healthy life choices” like quitting smoking, losing weight, and eating sufficient vegetables. Exercise is good for you - reason enough to deter anyone who has grown weary and resentful of the lengthening list of things to feel guilty for not doing.
But forget all that health business for a moment, and consider exercise for the truly joyful thing that it is. Sure, it’s good for you, but it would be something I’d be hooked on even if it wasn’t. What bothers me most about the fact that millions of Canadians are inactive isn’t that they’re making an unhealthy lifestyle choice, but that they don’t know what they’re missing.
Of all the people who have altered the course of my life over the years, I owe special thanks to the Courtenay Elementary teacher (name lost to time, unfortunately) who inadvertently got me into life-long exercise by organizing a ski day for my Grade 7 class.
Would I have ever have discovered exercise otherwise? Possibly - my parents were physically active, particularly my mother, and my young sub-conscious surely made note of that. But the ski trip was still the first time I recall reveling in the feeling of my body competently at work in the beautiful outdoors. Up until then, I’d always felt like a lump of a kid who couldn’t do much of anything sports-wise.
The ski trip didn’t change me over night. I was asthmatic as a child and continued to work that to the max in getting out of phys-ed classes during my school years. I never did warm up to team sports, and to this day continue to shun softball, volleyball, or any sport in which I stand a chance of letting the team down.
But as luck would have it in terms of early habits, my friends and I did a lot of walking in our teen years - the unexpected benefit of a small town with no other means of getting around. When 10-speed racers became an option, we rode to get places faster, and pretty soon were riding just for the fun of it.
Gradually, exercise became less of a chance event and more of a planned activity in my day. By my late 20s, it was part of the fabric of my life, like eating. I moved through aerobics to weight-lifting to yoga to running, and am lately considering drumming and dance. I suppose it’s kept me healthier, but I know for certain that it has kept me sane.
My years in journalism provided me with some amazing opportunities to put my body to work. I’ve learned that physical activity also helps me think better, and I came to love journalistic pursuits that combined writing and exercise.
The first such journey was the VisionQuest canoe trip from Hazelton to Victoria in 1997, which I joined for the final two weeks from Port Hardy to Victoria. The following year, an environmental boat tour of B.C.’s wild central coast introduced me to river hikes and old-growth exploration. The 1,000-kilometre Tour de Rock cancer fundraiser in 2001 was not only a powerful experience in its own right, but clarified for me the sport that I think I love best: Cycling.
But that’s just the splashy stuff. Walking up the hill to the Dominion Observatory on a bright summer evening is a rush all on its own. So is swimming Thetis Lake from one end to another. And on just about any morning - even a grey, rainy one - you can’t help but feel a little better for a walk down the Gorge waterway.
It’s not about being “athletic.” Believe me: It’s definitely not about that. It’s just about putting one foot ahead of the other and doing something that gets your body working. For me, it’s also about doing it outside, because there’s nothing like being out in the world for at least an hour every day.
So maybe you start out exercising because you think you have to. That’s certainly how I felt in the runup to the Grade 7 ski day. But soon you’re doing it because everything about it is great. You see new sights, breathe new air, get a big rush of endorphins AND it’s good for you.
Sure, it’s a healthy lifestyle choice. But don’t let that put you off. Anything that feels this good deserves to catch on.

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