Random (but not really)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Health

Several friends have recently started diet and exercise programs, and that got me thinking.

I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards “diet” as watching what you eat, but am a huge proponent of exercise.

First, I most likely have a mild case of body dysmorphic disorder. Because of my tendencies to obsess, I do not own a scale or a full length mirror, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. If I don’t see the numbers I can’t obsess over them. If I can’t see myself, I can’t look for flaws.

I do, however, focus (obsess even?) on the health aspect of exercise and diet (not in the sense of eat this and get thin, but in the sense of this is what you need to eat to be healthy.) Why? Because I was 28 when I had my first friend die of an undiagnosed heart condition. Since then I have had a multiple friends lose family members due to undiagnosed and untreated health conditions–people who on the surface were completely healthy.

So health is important to me, but I don’t buy the idea that weight is the most important indicator of health status. What I do believe is important is a healthy diet and keeping active.

I haven’t eaten mammals for coming up on twenty years–that’s more than half my life. The reason I stopped eating mammals was for ethical issues–I believe that we are required to treat animals ethically, and as I’ve noted many times before, the food industry does not, in fact, behave ethically when it comes to the animals or even humans.

Aside from that, I eat what I like and what I think tastes good. But that last bit is the kicker: I bake and decided long ago junk food was a poor substitute for what I can make at home. Why eat products that are artificial when I can make things that taste so much better? Can everyone do that? Perhaps not. But I can guarantee that goodies from a local bakery are going to taste better than the products with a shelf life of years.

Is this more expensive or time consuming Yes. But as I said, I want to eat things that taste good, not just because they are there.

And then there’s exercise.

As I’ve noted before, exercise is one of the ways I treat my depression, and that has kept me exercising when I’d just as soon give it up. It forces me to go to the gym when I’d rather go home and collapse on the sofa.

My exercise plan started out modestly: some friends and I would walk at lunch time. Did it more days than not, but rarely five days a week. Then I switched jobs, and that 30 minutes a day walking morphed into a way to keep in touch with my friend at my old job. I left that job nine years ago, yet excluding her pregnancy, my friend Kim and I have continued to walk for half an hour at lunch.

This walking isn’t just exercise, it’s our chance to keep up, and our break from the day. It’s when I try and reframe the crappy events of the day into amusing stories. And yes sometimes we bitch and complain, but for my, this time is a haven in the middle of the day. And eventually, even when she can’t walk with me, I walk for 30 minutes by myself with my mp3 player. Why? Because that break in the middle of the day is far more important than I first thought. If I’m in the office, I can be asked questions. I’m looking at my computer. I can hear the phone ring. I can see e-mails coming in. When I’m walking that is 30 minutes I am away from my desk. Yes, I do get stopped in the halls, but I’ve discovered that most people are loathe to interrupt my time and conversations with Kim, so questions tend to take a few seconds–something very different from when I’m walking the halls normally.

And eventually I discovered that I felt a lot better on days when I walked at lunch. So then I started adding in a trip to the gym. First just to walk, but after awhile I started adding in the machines for weight training as a break from walking. But I kept it up because it made me feel better.

And that, truly, is what I believe you have to do if you want to be healthy. You have to find an exercise that you like, and then do it every work day, five days a week (or seven days a week, but I think seven days a week is unreasonable.) Why every day? Because it’s too easy to slip into the pattern of, “Oh, I’m really (whatever) today, I’ll do it tomorrow.” And then you’re maybe doing it one day a week, and then you don’t bother at all. Because every day the (whatever) may change, but it’s always something. There is always something “better” to do than go to the gym, so (excluding illness and injury) there are no free days.

Because when you come right down to it, there is nothing better I can do than take care of myself.

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