Precarious

You may know from reading these posts (Keep Learning post) that I do a lot of exercise — not to be a jock, rather to stay healthy.  It’s for cardio (biking everywhere) and nerve health (weight machines).  It doesn’t hurt that it helps me stay in my weight range (138-143 lbs;  I’m 5’8″, so this is close to “ideal,” whatever that means).

Two-and-a-half months ago, I was kicked in the thigh by a horse, just above the kneecap (thank goodness).  As a result, I was unable to bend my leg very well for 3 weeks, and therefore unable to ride my bike, use many of the weight machines, or do my evening stretches.  Awful.  Of course, much worse things happen to many people;  I’m merely noting that for me, this was awful.

I quickly started feeling logy, my energy level was diminished.  And I quickly gained a couple of pounds.  Moreover, I missed being on my bike zooming around in the fresh air, ringing my bell at passers-by.  I missed riding up to the gym for a workout.  And without my evening stretches, my whole body tightened up quite a bit (and I’m pretty tight in the first place).

After three weeks, I was gradually able to resume pedaling, and this was a relief.  Things started to improve, and then I had several trips during which I had no bike or gym access — walked a lot, but that’s all.  Fun trips, but didn’t help with getting back to “normal.”

The takeaway for me was the quick realization that one’s “normal” state of being, where everything works and is humming along, can disappear in an instant (how long it took the horse to kick me).  Just imagine the nightmare had the horse kicked me an inch higher and shattered my kneecap!!!

When you’re very young (say up until 40), health is often taken for granted.  Closing in on 62 (still young!), I’m keenly aware of how important health is and how fragile it is.  “Health is Everything” has been said by many — and they’re right:  it is the sine qua non, for sure.

Another instance came to mind that I’ve blogged about on these pages:  the time I hurt my wrist badly playing tennis (badly) and couldn’t play my beloved piano for six months (Enjoying the Arts — Now That There’s Time post).  This was the first occasion that the ephemeral nature of good health really hit me hard.

The message must be DO EVERYTHING WHILE YOU CAN, and take good care of your health so you can do it as long as possible!  Healthy food and exercise is where it’s at.

Oh, and 10 weeks after the horse kicked me, I was able to do a full squat this week, my weight’s back to normal, my bike is in constant use, and I’m back to being able to my full weight machine regimen.  Aaaaaah.

Bike

My bike is crappy.  I bought it 10-15 years ago for around $250 at Target.  It is a 21-speed “mountain bike” which I ride on city streets, mostly the flats, but some pretty good sized hills.  I bought it to go bike riding with the kids when they were younger.

Once the kids moved away, I bought a really spiffy scooter!  It looks just like a vintage Vespa, but it’s electric.  Where there’s supposed to be storage space under the seat, there are several large batteries.  It’s got a range of a little over 20 miles and doesn’t like going up the big hills (works fine but, as I learned the hard way, destroys the electric motor after a while…).  It charges overnight.

This thing is a gas (an electron?) to drive around town as I run my errands, especially in the summer when I’m in shorts and a polo shirt — and a helmet, of course.  Some are horrified that I’m not clothed in a full leather outfit, and they periodically stop me to wag their finger at me.  The worst are the doctors who tell me about the broken bodies they see delivered from motorcycles (and scooters, I suppose) to the E.R.  They like to be graphic about it, hoping that I will come to my senses.  Minimizing the chances of that is a big goal of mine, so I drive only on back streets where there are pretty much no cars.  And I don’t ride my scooter when it’s wet.  So far, I’ve only had one close call, when a young lady in the lane next to me in front of the grocery store I was headed to decided to pull into my lane — in fact into my currently occupied space — without looking (maybe had something to do with the cute guy in the passenger seat).  I had to slam on my brakes and almost steer into a parked car.  She was a little mortified.  I was glad not to need a mortician.  That’s why I stay on car-less streets whenever possible.  Unfortunately, there are no grocery stores on car-less streets.

At the beginning of 2011, I decided to do more exercise.  The scooter got parked in the garage (I’ll get around to selling it on Craigslist someday, no doubt), and took to my crappy bicycle.  Wow — was this ever a good move.  The aerobic exercise that has come from this has greatly increased my stamina and it takes a lot now to get me winded.  Moreover, the scooter was good for noticing more about my environs as I rode around, and the bike is another great improvement that way.  Parking’s really easy, too, and the bike makes it super-easy to get around the Stanford campus for my many outings there.

Now, I’m not one of those guys in the colorful nylon racing suits.  My shoes don’t clip to the pedals.  Remember, I’m on my crappy 10+-year-old Target bike.  Doesn’t matter:  it’s still been excellent.  And now my shifter doesn’t work very well and multiple other things are failing on the bike, so I’m finally thinking about a new one.  The important thing, though, is just to be on the bike, enjoying the outdoors, enjoying the neighborhood, and taking care of my health while getting my errands done.

If you want to enjoy the gift of longevity that our generation has in the U.S., you’ve got to be in good shape.  What’s the benefit of living to 85-90 if you’re falling apart?  OK, a lot of it is genetic, but a lot of it is lifestyle, too.  Maybe I’ll fall apart, maybe I won’t, but at least I will have made an effort to keep myself healthy.  This feels good to the mind.  And the endorphins that come from the exercise help one’s spirit, which in turn affects one’s outlook on life.  It’s an upwards spiral.

I chose biking because it fits as part of running my errands and I don’t find it boring.  Working out at the gym, I find boring.  I do that not nearly enough during the cold/wet days we get in the winter — not nearly often enough, because it’s boring.

So consider some exercise that gives you a chance to be as healthy as your genes will allow.  And if you can find one that doesn’t bore you, that doesn’t feel like homework or a task or a burden — that’s much better.  There are plenty of sources out there that will lecture you about how the “I don’t have time” excuse or “It’s too difficult” or “whatever” excuse are just excuses.  If you start doing it a bit, it will give you more energy, and then it’ll be easy to do more.

Oh, and it’s never too late.  I read a good study in Science News that says that octogenarians who haven’t done any exercise in decades benefit measurably in muscle mass, strength, and endurance after modest exercise for just a few weeks.

What about my upper body?  Fortunately, I like some pretty energetic piano pieces!