At seventeen I started exercising on purpose. Having been born near the tail end of the boomers mine is one of the last generations who never had to think about exercise before adulthood. We were simply active. We rode our bicycles, walked long distances to school, swam in rivers or lakes, and played rough games in empty fields. Schools still had physical education classes that required…well… physical education. We climbed ropes (my favorite), played dodge ball, did jumping jacks and dreaded changing clothes in the locker room.
Boomers are proud of that history. We reminisce about it with friends our age and post FB memes that say “like this if you remember” not having to be home until the street lights came on. We scoff at the softness, obesity and lack of physicality of “kids these days”. It makes my husband absolutely insane every time the Public Service Announcement for “60 Minutes of Play” airs. “Why do they have to tell kids to play?!” He yells. “Why do they have to remind their parents” I think.
But this isn’t about them. We could proselytize forever about video games, cable television, smart phones and computers. This is about us. It’s about what happens after we grow up and start growing old. It’s about how hard life can be. It’s about how exercise has saved my life. Figuratively if not literally. Although I tell my daughter "when the Zombie Apocalypse comes I’m the one that can swim the river and walk the hundred miles it takes to get to the safe zone". That’s literal.
It’s hard for me to imagine who and where I'd be without exercise. What my life would be like. It’s strange how memory works. But the memory of making a decision to be well and exercise is really clear. I was a cigarette smoking, overweight, drug using, sad, extremely lonely seventeen year old. Cigarette in hand browsing through a magazine I saw an ad with beautiful healthy looking young women in it. They were on a beach laughing and running with glowing skin and healthy bodies. I thought “they don’t smoke”.
It was more of an impression than a full thought. The ad impressed on me the idea that if I wanted to feel like that I had to be healthy. We won’t get into how those girls were likely anorexic cigarette smoking drug users that photography did miracles for. Or that it was probably a cigarette ad. Because what matters is what happened to me. I wanted to FEEL GOOD and I didn’t.
Although I did quit smoking and start exercising a few weeks later, it was years of finding my way into real health. I battled (and beat) cocaine addiction throughout the late seventies and part of the eighties. Exercise helped me get strong and stay strong to do so. I spent my weekdays lifting weights or doing Jane Fonda aerobics. My nights and weekends snorting coke. The exercise gave me the endorphin boost that cocaine addicts crave as well as the self-esteem boost we all crave.
What I wanted when I quit smoking, when I quit doing drugs and when I started exercising was to feel vital. Like we did as kids swimming in the lake or playing flag football. Do you remember that feeling? Exercise has allowed me to feel like that every decade of my life.
Thirty three summers after seeing that ad in a magazine I swam across a small lake and jumped off a cliff. Every week I hike to the top of a beautiful hill and feel the breeze on my face. Long after I beat drug addiction I battled anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve had surgeries and horrible illnesses. I’ve been disappointed and life, like it does, has tried to beat me down. It hasn’t in large part because I’m strong and because I can climb a mountain or swim across a river.
It’s a perk that my ass still looks good and I can fit into cute clothes. That’s nice. It has its benefits. It means I feel sexy and I still like sex. Which is good for my marriage. It means I like how I look most of the time and it shows. I can laugh at myself and laugh with my friends and that’s good for my friendships. A number of years ago I was in a physiology class in college. The PHD professor said “exercise is the only true miracle drug”. I’ve tried a lot of drugs and can tell you unequivocally…. This is truth.
In the new year may you be well~ Kelly