I have done exercise before.
I have walked for hundreds of miles because I love the fresh air, the landscape and the solitude. I love the curiosities that I come across and the moment when an unexpected animal dashes across my path.
I have trailed along behind climbers because I love a climber. I also love the adventure, the challenge and (some but not too much) excitement. I love touching rock and I suppose I love swinging around on the end of a rope, remembering that various butresses are bigger, stronger and more awesome than me.
But the 30-day ab challenge is different. Nobody is pretending that there is any motivation for doing this other than having exercised. Exercise for exercises sake: for nothing but changing my body.
We thirty-day ab challengees are not alone. Plenty of people who run on roads to improve their fitness have told me that they hate running. And I find it unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK with a gym membership all love the inside of a gym.
Never-the-less, the girly magazines would have me believe that this sort of exercise is the norm; that it’s ‘good for me’ to keep fit.
I’ve heard that I should exercise to loose weight. To avoid diabetes (ahem). To have a good figure. No pain, no gain. Remember: the tedious chore of uncomfortable exercise is important because it will make me look good and feel healthy in the end.
One might use similar language to persuade a young child to eat boiled cabbage. Is it any surprise that each generation is doing less exercise than ever before?
And the worst thing is, that none of it is true!
Exercise doesn’t have to look like THIS:
It can look like THIS:
You saw the This Girl Can promotion.
It’s full women loving what their bodies do for them!
Relishing the feel of endorphins running through their veins.
Because here’s the secret about exercise: get it right and it feels good!
I used to have a pet rabbit called Misty. Like many animals, you used to see Misty running up and down the garden for the sheer joy of it. You never saw him counting his bunny-hops or doing X reps of 50, in order to promote his wasit-line or long-term health.
Sometimes it was different though; sometimes he’d run because he felt that he had to escape, either because I was coming to put him back in his hutch for the night, or once because he was chased by someone’s cat.
Which brings us nicely to physiology.
Say that Mistry is being chased.
His body goes into flight-or-fight mode, or stress mode. The heart beats faster, the lungs breathe deeper. Things that aren’t essential in that moment – salivary juice, gastric secretions, distracting sexual feelings (Misty had lots of those) get switched off. Oh yes, and the sugar in the blood? Well, with those cats hanging around, you never know when you’re going to need extra energy. The stress-steroid, Cortisol, actually encourages it to be stored as fat for later.
Now comes the bit that I learned from a TED talk today (the speaker seems a bit nuts but she’s a biochemistry professor so I trust her). It’s good: watch it later at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ0SME6Z9rw
The pace of modern life versus our cavewoman biochemistry: Dr Libby Weaver at TEDxQueenstown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ0SME6Z9rw
Humans following an exercise program can force ourselves to train harder. We can squeeze in a work-out that we don’t feel like doing between the office and home. But in doing this, we risk persuading our already-stressed bodies that tiger-eating must be about to happen. The body turns flight-or-fight mode on. Blood cortisol increases.
Sexy feelings reduce. Fat deposition increases. And so on…..
I’d like to mention smugly that the fat thing’s OK by me because I’m not doing exercise to loose weight. I rarely weigh myself nowadays – I no longer associate low numbers with awesomeness – and that’s very liberating.
But I AM doing the chore-abs by numbers because I want to feel stronger, firmer and more Ninja-like.
And it’s currently working. I’m half-way through an feeling pretty good. I can do handstands and monkey-bars like a kid again. At the moment, I’m loving it because Becky and I are spurring each other on. Because there’s rapport from the online team and it’s cool to see my body change.
But isn’t that like a crash diet just before you go on holiday? The dieter would feel skinny, better-looking and more confident. Yet research has shown that participants in diet projects are more likely to have gained weight 2 years later than people who never dieted in the first place. Because despite initially fantastic results, maintaining a diet is hard for us: we’re programmed to store food not waste it (that’s the cortisol kicking in), especially if it’s in short supply.
And guess what? Maybe when core exercise ceases to be a novelty , it will become a daily chore – a stressor – that I have to fight to keep up. Perhaps the stress steroid Cortisol will strike.
And it also may be possible that i am not narcissistic enough even to do one hundred daily sit-ups for the sake of my tummy.
So when it’s all over, and Becky and I have hi-fived each other and felt smug, won’t we just flop back to wobbly-belly syndrome?
Unless, of course, I find a way to turn chore exercise into joyful-like-Misty-in-the-garden exercise – exercise I am motivated to do for the joy of it. The only woman I know who actually maintains a daily core work-out (and has done for the two years I have known her) does it because of the joy it brings to her climbing.
I don’t think this is a coincidence.