Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Years Exercise Place

(News-Herald, January 13)About 18 months ago, in a fit of household cost-cutting, I ended my membership at the Y.
I figured that with a bit of discipline and determination I could exert myself at home for free. I already own a lazy treadmill (it used to let you run to nowhere indefinitely, but now shuts itself down after twenty minutes). I even invested in a nifty stand that lets you turn your outdoor bicycle into a housebound bike that also doesn’t go anywhere. Going nowhere may seem like a boring way to exercise, but the advantage is that when I collapse from exhaustion, I do not have far to drag my weary carcass home.
I gave myself a year to try the home sweatiness plan. Then I gave myself another six months to convince me that my year trial hadn’t been an utter failure. And then I slunk back to the Y and became one of those people who started out the new year resolving to turn over a new leaf. A big, fat, heavy leaf that has to be turned over again and again until my heart rate is elevated into the fat burning cardio zone.
I’m not sure what to blame (well, other than me) for my home fitness failure. The big bike ride to nowhere did get monotonous, and this last summer I was somehow too busy too often to bike and kayak as much as I really intended to. Although I am to athletics what Twinkies are to fine dining, I don’t fear physical activity. Yet somehow, my exercise regimen slowly devolved from a daily routine to a grudging celebration of the first day of each new month. It was time to admit I needed help.
Not that the Y provides me with a personal trainer or a chauffer to drive me to the weight room. They do provide motivational programs (the Silver Sneakers are using their exercisial accomplishments to create snow men), and since my last membership they have filled up the gym—excuse me, I mean “fitness center”—with nifty new machinery.
The new machines have little attached televisions, so by rejoining the Y I have also reattached myself to cable tv. It has been over two years since I cut off the cable, and it turns out that I missed the exercise machinery more than I missed regular tv programming. But the shiny colorful things moving around on screen help distract me from the complaining parts of my flailing physique. It also turns out that Dr. Phil is much easier to take when I’m gasping and sweating and can’t really hear him talk.
Mostly, though, I think what I’m experiencing is the power of place. As much as we think of ourselves as self-contained masters of our domains, we are often slaves of location. As infants we are unrestrained impulse; we will do anything anywhere. But as we age and learn self-control, we also learn to associate certain behavior with certain places.
We like to have our own special places to live, and even sub-divisions within them. I write these columns every week sitting in my personally accoutered man-cave. Occasionally, I have been forced to write them in other rooms, even other buildings, and I can certainly do it—but I don’t like it, and it’s almost uncomfortable.
We build our own little nests for our various purposes, and even multi-purpose rooms rarely are. Parents of sleep-averse infants are advised to make bed only for sleeping—not playing or reading or snacking. Couples experiencing a lack of marital harmonious activity are given similar advice.
I associate my home with many things, but not working out, and I have no space assigned to that purpose. So part of what I have hired the Y for, again, is a place that is only for getting sweaty and winded. When I walk into my living room, there are many things to do. When I walk into the fitness center, there’s nothing to do except hop on a machine.
We don’t generally buy hardware in a restaurant. Businesses are designed to be places dedicated to certain activities, and new places for familiar activities can feel awkward. The importance of place is likely also why folks are suspicious of church-skippers who declare they can commune with God any old where. The importance of place probably also explains why folks who grew up in Venangoland find, even when they wish it were not so, that no place feels quite like home.

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