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Moving, climbing and mowing toward Health  2/21/2005
by Marco Lam, L.Ac.

You know you should probably exercise more, but you just got the limited edition A-Team series on DVD and you had a long day. You understand that exercise benefits your heart and you have heard the Surgeon General say that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Perhaps even more so, that extra couple of pounds that give you a sort of pear-like shape is motivating you to do something besides another evening on the couch. The inertia of our sedentary culture is difficult to break, you almost need to swim upstream against our culture of convenience. So how does one break the sedentary habit and begin an exercise program for health and wellness?

According to Daniel Carney, a local physical trainer, "Two words, motivation and support. Change is always difficult in the beginning. Consider that more than half of the people beginning a new exercise program will quit within six months. There are many reasons why someone will begin an exercise program. For many, disease prevention is their primary reason. For others, weight loss, improved sport performance, or injury rehabilitation might be the motivator." The beauty of beginning an exercise program is that once you begin to increase your physical activity, a feedback loop happens where you feel more alive and energized and have more energy to put back into your life and your exercise program. Carney continues, "I listen to my clients to discover what their motivation to exercise is. From there, we set short and long term goals, which will guide us in designing a program. As goals are reached, a sense of accomplishment is felt. Progress is the best motivator." While working with a trainer and going to a gym is a great option that supports you in setting good exercise habits, there are many other paths to wellness.

As a culture, we tend to view exercise as just another chore that we need to do to provide upkeep to our general lifestyle. Perhaps this is the crux of getting over being sedentary, looking at exercise as some compartmentalized clinical health activity rather than something to enjoy as a bodily and sensual pleasure. It comes down to that the exercise that you enjoy is the most clever exercise for you to practice. Ashley Woods and Casey Newman, two of the owners of the The Spot, a local bouldering gym, both believe that climbing challenges you in such a way that is fun and makes if possible to overcome blocks both physically and mentally. "Unlike in a gym where you are lifting weights repetitively, each climbing problem challenges you in a new way - working out the entire body, it requires an intensity of concentration that is very powerful. Climbing changes something in you, once you become a climber, you almost always stay a climber. I've seen tremendous growth in self-confidence and esteem in the kids in our programs as they challenge themselves and find success", says Woods, "The constant effort to improve yourself becomes habit. You meet yourself in those hard places, both physically and emotionally. The metaphor of climbing applies in all aspects of life, but especially how you relate to fear, challenge and risk." The crowd of people of all ages laughing and socializing in the gym as we talk belies the fact that climbing in a gym is as much a social activity as it a physical one. Newman's eyes are shining as he says, "Climbing brings out the aspect of your personality that is normally behind the pretense, that aspect that is out when you are confronting your edge. One of the biggest mental obstacles is the belief that you can't do something, if you don't believe you can do it, you probably will not. The amazing thing about climbing is that this edge is always there, from being a novice to being an elite climber, it is less about how hard the climb you are doing and more about how you are challenging yourself and meeting the challenge. The mental habits of fear and anxiety, the basic reluctance to push harder, can be difficult to break out of and climbing can take you far out of your comfort zone, but the reward of leaving that place and exploring your potential is incredibly satisfying afterwards. I have been climbing for 30 years now and every time I climb, I learn something new about myself."

For some, the idea of exercise is daunting and the concept of lifting weights or climbing is outside of what they would consider. Misty Cech, an exercise physiologist with Boulder Holistic Fitness, says, "The very first mile is the hardest. The very first yoga pose. Just showing up can be the hardest part for people. Much of our culture has been lured into the disease of being sedentary and forgot that exercise is a way of nurturing yourself, it is the most basic form of self-love. My grandfather worked a farm and was up from sunrise to sunset working outside all day, now people work at a desk 9-5, drive to work and watch TV when they come home. Of course you are tired when you are addicted to convenience and don't use your body." If you view exercise as a basic cornerstone for good health, it is an easy connection to see the epidemic of obesity and chronic degenerative disease in the US linked to the malady of being sedentary. In our grandparent's generation, people still walked places, gardened, danced and didn't sit for hours in front of a television. Some of the most rewarding exercise may be just to recapture the basic activities of life, those that sustain and nourish us from planting an organic garden to using a push mower to trim up your front lawn. Cech advocates a gentle approach, "Make a commitment to yourself and keep your word to yourself. Don't get down on yourself when you have an off day, but recognize you have the ability to change this moment. Suppose you use to be physically active in college or high school but work or family life has been hectic and you have lapsed from exercise for a while. Start small, take a sandwich to work and commit to taking a jog on your lunch hour. Go for walk to get a bag of groceries or ride your bike to work. It doesn't have to be a 10k race, it can be as simple as walking a child to the park and pushing them on a swing."

The power of habit governs so much of our health and outlook on life, when you have lost touch with your body's desire for movement, it can require some help to regain healthy practices that reconnect you with your body's internal compass toward health and healing.

"It’s a long and difficult road when you walk it alone. Recruiting the support of family and friends increases your enjoyment and chance for success. It is even more helpful if you can find a partner to train with. A training partner can help by holding you accountable. You are less likely to miss a workout when someone else is counting on you to show up," says Carney as parting advice, "And, when the going gets tough, you have someone who understands what you’re going through, and that is often enough to pull you through difficult times."


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