On Exercise

It is good for me

My journal reminded me that I started doing 7-minute high-intensity interval training yesterday two years ago. After looking around a bit, I chose the Johnson & Johnson app to guide me, and although I toyed with customising routines, I quickly gave up and just stuck with the programme. I do remember the thrill as I went up from 7 minutes to 15 to 24 and even more so as I did my first push-up and rotation on the floor rather than on the edge of the table. The lockdown provided a huge motivational boost to get me though the days of no walking in the park. Now I’m happy doing three sessions a week, M-W-F, alternating between the 2-cycle moderate set and the 3-cycle cardio set.

My relationship with exercise has always been something of a love-hate thing. I am very poor at motivating myself. I could never just go for a run. There had to be some kind of definable end. At college, I took up rowing both because it was the thing to do and because there would be eight other people who would both keep me going and that I would be letting down if I didn’t. And in truth, there is nothing quite like the sensation of an eight cruising along when everything is going well. I even enjoyed ghastly circuit training at the boat house.

After that, though, purposeful exercise became rare. I have always walked a lot, but never could get the hang of running, although I have been all the way through the couch potato to 5k thing two or three times. That was after the dog died. It seemed unfair to force the dog to run beside me when all she wanted to do was amble and sniff, and I could never allow her to run free in the park. A dodgy arthritic knee and a bunion provide ample excuse.

Nordic walking is fun, especially blasting past the large groups in the park using it as an excuse for a stroll and a chat. I keep vowing to do more of that, but it is too hot in the summer.

Cycling is also fun, and I love it, but in all honesty Rome is not a great city to cycle in. Cars are just too aggressive and schlepping the bike up from the storage cupboard downstairs makes it pointless for short journeys. I’d rather walk.

At various points in my life I’ve done the age-appropriate Canadian 5BX workouts, which in principle are very close to the 7-minute HIIT (and, indeed, the hated circuit training of old). The 7-minute circuits, however, are more varied and less boring and hence more attractive.

Why do I bother? Probably because in the short-term I feel good and in the longer term I subscribe to a kind of reserve-tank mentality. Keeping up a level of physical activity beyond my daily needs provides the sensation that I can actually cope with an average day more easily. A couple of weekends ago, I had a friend visiting and we very casually walked 18 km around the city, with no ill effects at the time or the next day. That’s about twice the distance I walk on an average day, and I am sure that if it was three or four times my average, it would have been much more difficult.

As I said, though, I am very bad at keeping myself motivated. I also like to see progress, even illusory progress. So I love the fact that my watch and phone supply all sorts of data that I could analyse if I put my mind to it — although really, I don’t see why they can’t do a better job of analysis — and continued to work on my programming. In the meantime, I just keep on doing it and feeling good about it.

Even at my advanced age, I have been able to improve general fitness. And here I sit this morning, having got through the 21-minute cardio blast without too much difficulty. Eventually, I suppose, general wear and tear will catch up with me, but I hope always to be able to do at least some specific exercise.

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