I have always had a love / hate relationship with exercise. I love feeling better and somewhat virtuous when I do it, but I am an expert at putting it off. I tell myself that I am too busy working, that looking after my home and family and dogs takes my free time, and so forth. I wasn’t very good at sports back in my schooldays, and have always focused more on studies, reading, intellectual pastimes, and other activities that didn’t penalize me for my short stature or lack of coordination and spatial awareness. I still remember the dread of playing lacrosse twice a week on cold and rainy fields at my high school.
In my 20s as a young woman in London I tried yoga and aerobics with friends after work with some success, and I have also worked with a few great personal trainers over the years, the best one being back in England who remains a close friend to this day. Once I emigrated to the USA, I tried a few who said they were moving away…but maybe they were just giving up on me!
I recently read that “if exercise was a pill, everyone would take it” which really resonates with me. During these times of COVID-19 the idea of letting more people into our home for personal training or going to the gym has even less appeal than before. So, as the clock ticks on and I now find myself in my fifties, I am keenly aware of the need to stay in better shape, improve my health and invest in my old age. My latest approach? I have invested in a large, elliptical cross training machine. I can exercise in privacy and on my own schedule and I had it placed between the kitchen and my car in our air- conditioned garage. My hope is that seeing it multiple times every day will remind and perhaps “guilt” me into 45 minutes a day on it. I am told that elliptical systems combine cardio exercise with strength training and will help with flexibility, heart health, muscle strength and bone density. A great, low impact workout with an audio book sounds pretty good to me.
The idea of “keeping fit” really took off relatively recently in human history. Throughout the ages, ‘working out’ was not a target but just a way of life. From the prehistoric hunter gatherers, men, women and children had to be extremely fit and flexible just to survive. As farming began, physical labor was just a standard part of this existence. Early civilizations including the Greek and Romans imposed physical training on boys and young men so that they were ready for battle. Athletic competitions grew out of this, most famously the Olympic games which were started by the ancient Greeks.
During the Middle Ages in Europe, which ran from the 5th to the 15th century AD, noblemen and mercenary soldiers underwent physical training for military service while much of the population labored hard physically to scratch out a living from working the fields. Disease, invasions and hardship were widespread, and many women died in childbirth, so life expectancy was short for most. Then came the Renaissance Era (from around 1400 to 1600) which saw more interest in the body, anatomy, biology, health, and physical education. And finally came the Industrial Revolution, which marked the transition from manual production methods to machine-based manufacturing and agricultural processes. This led to a more sedentary lifestyle, and hence the recognition and movement towards intentional physical exercise. It is widely known that a side effect of civilization and technology is that we simply don’t need to physically work so hard just to survive.
European physical education and cultural traditions were taught in schools and began to make their way to America in the nineteenth century. Gymnastics – mainly for boys but increasingly for both sexes – was based on movement and strength essential to military service and other real-life situations. It was not until the 20th century that the use of fitness equipment took off and the fitness industry really began. Weightlifting and “strong-men” body building competitions and magazines became popular followed by gyms, home equipment, books, DVDs and now fitness apps. It seems that as the use of automobiles increased, our work and lifestyles became even more sedentary, so physical fitness became a goal, sometimes elusive, for many of us. There is a lot more information at www.history.com
I will leave you with a quote which resonates with me about the many important things in life, like family, career, friends, church, community and even a change in attitude towards my own physical fitness. Benjamin Franklin, US Founding Father and one of my heroes, said simply “Energy and Persistence Conquer All Things.”
God Bless America. Stay safe, stay well, and stay positive. And also stay fit!
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Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com