Monday, June 27, 2011

"I'd Rather Die Than Exercise"

{hello lady bug on my sneaker}

I have a confession to make.  I've been running lately.  It's not anything serious; but it is running.  Please don't de-friend me.

If you don't know me, you might not understand why this is a confession at all.  So let me start by saying that one of my friends (Caroline, of "friendship wreath" fame) recently sent me this WSJ article in which Danielle Steele was interviewed, with the introductory note "Ashley, I think you would approve of Ms. Steele's attitude towards gyms."  The attitude referred to can be summed up by this little quip from Ms. Steele, herself:

"The French don't really exercise and I'm originally French. I used to ride horses and ice skate as a child, but I would rather die than exercise today. I smoke, I drink and while I have a trainer, I avoid her by all means necessary. People in California always want to know about your workout program; I don't really know what to tell them."  (Emphasis added, obvi.)

Turns out, Caroline was right about me, as good friends always are.  And turns out Ms. Steele and I share more than just a common disdain for the American institution of the gym; we were also both ice skaters.  Yes, it's true.  Once upon a time, I was a figure skater (oh, just for 11 or 12 years or so).  During that time, my fellow skaters and I spent about 6 hours per day in some sort of intense fitness training.  Usually around 3 hours of skating practice per day, and then 2-3 hours in either strength training with high school football players (I wish I were kidding), or in a ballet class in which our miniature yet incredibly intimidating teacher would contort our bodies into unthinkable positions usually resulting in one or both feet positioned and pointed somewhere above our heads (and from which I may have developed workout-PTSD).

We also had to run.  A lot.  On treadmills.  Burning throats, heaving ribcages, and the generally degrading awareness of being forced to run in place.  Inside.  On a machine.  But yet, here I am giving running another shot.  I'm still adverse to the gym, mind you, as this running occurs only outside, where there is at least a possibility that I could catch a tan, or a nice view.  But I am running, and I kind of sometimes maybe a little like it.

So to what do I owe this sudden change of heart?  Let's start with the wrong answers.  First: I promise you that I am not running out of some mindless acceptance of the commonly repeated adage that "you should run a marathon once in your life, just to say you did it."  Doesn't anyone know where the name "marathon" came from?  It's not exactly a winning endorsement.  I just will never understand how the marathon has become such an accepted element of popular culture.

Second: I also promise you that I am not chasing a vain and unrealistic dream of attaining the "perfectly toned" body.  No my dears, a toned body has never been, and will never be enough motivation to make me endure the awful reality of running.  But you know what is?  A toned brain.  (Please note that the dorkiness gets worse from this point on.)

Brian (which is only one letter switcheroo from being "brain" -- totally irrelevant) has been reading (listening on tape to) this book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John T. Ratey, in which John, or shall I say, Dr. Ratey, rattles on about the non-aesthetic benefits to exercise, and especially cardio.  Seeing as though he is a real life psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and all, I'm inclined to believe him.  Now, don't quote me on this because it's all coming second-hand from Brian (and don't quote him on it either because that's a lot of pressure), but the book points to all sorts of studies that show that exercise increases neuroplasticity (the quality in brain cells that allows you to LEARN), stimulates your hippocampus (the thing in your brain that allows you to REMEMBER what you learn), and helps you both eliminate the STRESS you are already dealing with (by allowing your body to release the fight-or-flight chemicals that build up) and be able to better cope with future stress (by inducing low levels of stress so that your brain builds up a sort of immunity).  Well now, those words sound a little familiar.  Yes, in fact, learning, remembering, and stress might just be the three keywords to sum up the life of a law school graduate studying for the Bar exam.  So he got me, this Doctor.

How did he know that in my Bar-Brain-induced desperation to memorize endless stacks of flashcards and Roman numeral-ed outlines, I will do almost anything that brings with it a promise of increased brain power?  I don't know how, but he got me, that sneaky Doctor.

So now, I run.  I run because I need to pass the Bar exam, and I need to be a lawyer, and because I'm realizing now more than ever that my currency in life is my brain juice (thank you, Manrepeller, bringing that term into my vocabulary).  Yes, it's quite clear to me that in the marriage of my mind and body, my mind is definitely the bread winner, and for that, if for nothing else, I need it.  And as the days get closer to when I will actually have to put my thinking to the real world test, where all I will have to count on when I'm suddenly accountable for representing other people's interests is my brain juice, I am more and more terrified aware of the importance of the mind-body connection, and more and more willing to do anything, even run, to make that connection stronger.  Except maybe drink those gross green shots of who-knows-what at healthy smoothie places.  So instead, I've been running lately.

1 comment:

CG said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Danielle's article. She is quite the wise old cat.

Please ask Brian if there is any mention to people who play contact sports in his new book. I really think my road rage/China town anger has diminished since I started playing soccer!!! I'd love validation :)