Stop Exercising

I don't exercise.

And I don't mean I've allowed my membership to the gym to expire. I'm not talking about how I should really increase the distance I jog every other day, or that the daily "fun" activities I've planned to increase my heart rate have lately gotten too easy. I mean that the last time I had a gym membership, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. I mean that I probably wouldn't break into a jog even in a nightmare in which I was being chased by a giant ogre. My idea of "fun" is anything involving a supine position, a television set, and as little movement as possible.

If I could afford to pay someone to scoop me out of bed in the morning, carry me to the coffee maker, and then whisk me across the house and upstairs into the cushy green chair I'm sitting in as I type this, I would.

Alas, servants reside outside my budget. So I've lived my life in deep resentment of mobility. As a child, while other kids rode bikes and played noisy games of tag, I sat quietly on my bean bag chair, reading books by Cornelia Otis Skinner in which she detailed her world travels but never once mentioned anything cardiovascular. In my 20s, while most of my male friends were committed to increasing the size of their biceps, I was a spindly devotee of the nap.

But middle age — and a routine exam by my general practitioner — recently felled me. "You have," she told me solemnly after eyeing the results of my blood test, "the cholesterol levels of an obese person."

The solution, she announced, was relatively simple: more halibut and less pasta; fish oil capsules twice a day, and, of course, that dreaded expletive for which I'd already braced myself: exercise.

It was decided that walking would count as exercise, so long as I did it for at least 20 minutes each day. I would sooner have been told that I had only months to live, but that I could spend those months lying very still, but my diagnosis was less restful. I resolved to walk.

My resolution lasted exactly one day. On my first jaunt around the rather pretty block on which I live, I ran into my neighbor, Steve, a balding man who makes his living as a personal trainer to the wealthy. Steve always thinks I'm kidding when I tell him that I hate him, but I'm dead serious. And it's not because he, at age 52, has a flat stomach and calves like cantaloupes, or that he manages to work into every conversation the fact that he has a master's degree in nutrition. It's because he likes to exercise, behavior I find unforgivable.

I confessed to Steve right away my resolve to take what I called "a daily constitutional," an admission that caused him to jump up and down, flapping his arms in the air like a demented windmill.

"These are called jumping jacks," Steve huffed out between flailings. "If you stop every hundred yards and do 10 of these, you'll really give your old heart a workout."

I turned and, for the first time since junior high, I ran.

Once home, I telephoned my friend Mike Alkins. Mike used to be a nurse and taught aerobics in the '80s; he's the only one of my pals who doesn't roll his eyes when I tell him my desire to live a completely inert life.

"You have two choices," Mike told me. "You can either take those cholesterol-lowering pills that might damage your liver or you can eat nothing but vegetables for a couple of months to get your levels down."

It was no contest, really. I like vegetables, and my spouse is a gourmand who can make anything, even okra, taste good. I called him work later that day. "We're vegetarians now," I told him.

That was four months ago. Although I've backslid and tasted the occasional tenderloin, I've mostly eaten nothing that didn't spring from the ground or was yanked from a vine. My cholesterol counts have dipped dramatically, and I've dropped 11 pounds without performing so much as a single leg extension. And the best part is, I haven't had to bump into foot-faced Steve, who can keep his jumping jacks and his colossal leg muscles. I've got broccoli Florentine and a smaller waistline, to boot.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela