My new doctor recently asked me “do you exercise?” It is one of those questions that doctors ask. My old doctor asked me the same thing. In fact, as far back as I can remember, this has been a topic for discussion at every annual physical. I know these guys take notes; maybe they never read them, because my answer has been pretty consistent, along the lines of “gosh, not enough.”
Until I retired, I had a pretty plausible excuse for my lack of vigorous activity. Including the commute time, my work schedule consisted of 12-hour days. At home, I barely had time to eat, sleep, take a shower and change my clothes. Exercise has never been my idea of leisure activity. There are always more interesting things to do—a low bar considering how utterly boring exercise is.
But at each annual physical, I promised my doctor that I would make an effort. As a sign of good faith, I bought a treadmill somewhere along the line, probably a decade ago. It is a nifty device that spares the lazy person from having to go outdoors to take a jog. In addition, having a treadmill in my basement meant that I no longer had to decide what to wear in case someone saw me jogging. I suppose I could have invested in several stylish jogging outfits for the price of the treadmill, but my real problem with jogging outdoors, even in the latest gear, was that exercising in public means holding oneself out as A Person Who Exercises. For a lazy person, such as myself, this is essentially a fraudulent activity. Its continued practice, I am sure, could do bad things to my psyche.
The downside of acquiring the treadmill was that it eliminated several perfectly good excuses that I had previously relied on for not exercising much. I could no longer blame a wardrobe deficiency, preservation of my mental health, or bad weather. So, my fallback argument was time and the fact that as a hard-working, productive, employed person working 12-hour days, I deserved some time to relax. Exercise by definition is not relaxing. Taking time to jog on the treadmill would reduce the time available for pure relaxation—something that even a doctor must recognize is beneficial, if not essential, for health.
My doctor usually bought this argument and dropped the subject, although I think he made a chart note about it.
My old doctor (who is actually younger than I am) became my old doctor earlier this year. He sent me a nice form letter saying that he had concluded that he had made his “maximal contribution” and felt that it was “unlikely” that he would be able to continue as my primary care provider. I sincerely hope that my consistent resistance to exercise was not a large factor in his decision to pursue a new career.
I had already retired by the time that I met my new doctor, who is not really a “new” doctor, having been in the business for many years. He has not been my doctor before, however, so I’ll call him my new doctor. I should maybe ask my new doctor about his career plans, but I don’t want to put him on the spot.
Anyway, my doctor asked me “do you exercise?” I realized that my lack-of-time excuse lacked a degree of credibility coming from a retiree. I was prepared for the question, though. Since the beginning of retirement, I have stepped up my exercise routine on the treadmill from 12 minutes, two days a week, to 12 minutes every morning. I feel that this is a substantial new level of commitment to exercise. In a characteristic demonstration of my candor, I explained to my new doctor that 12 minutes was about all that I could stand—well, jog—on the treadmill without being overcome with boredom. He smiled, indulgently, and recommended that I increase my daily physical exercise to 30 minutes. “It doesn’t have to be all at one time,” he assured me. I mentioned that I sometimes take walks or ride my bike (in a moment of zeal last summer, I also purchased a stationary bicycle, which now takes up more space in the basement near the treadmill). He said that walks would count. The important thing is doing at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
This afternoon I took a walk. I spent close to an hour doing it, so I figure I am ahead of the game. Walking is good, and it is not as boring as the treadmill. Today, the fall leaves were in glorious color and it was not too cold. You don’t have to wear a jogging suit to take a walk. I nodded and smiled at people along the way. I did not feel like a fraud.
Some other stuff for later,
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