It's difficult to stay fit and healthy in today's world, a world increasingly full of Big Macs and an apparently decreasing number of bike lanes. Practically every restaurant now has healthy options that, half the time, turn out to be even less healthy than the Oreo-cream donut you guiltily ate in your car the other day before you got to work. You know what I'm talking about.
So what's the solution? Obviously eating better is out of the question; it's just too darn tricky in this land of temptation. Instead, we exercise.
Not always smartly.
Depending on where you live, joining a gym can be expensive! But rest assured, there are many other options, all of them costing just a few paltry dollars. A medicine ball here, a DVD there. It all adds up, and you can feel smug about not spending money on a gym membership.
I got into yoga a few years ago when the craze was in full swing. I bought a mat and attended the free classes my college offered, trusting my instructor to twist me in and out of the contorted pretzel shapes that yoga is so famous for. I stood for what seemed like hours in Warrior Pose and I sweated through Downward Dog more times than I can count. I'd be sore for days afterward, but it was a good kind of sore. A healthy sore. (Well now, that just doesn't sound right, but you know what I mean.) I built up what I believed was a sturdy platform of yoga knowledge, one that would carry me through years of practicing on my own (yes, I even began speaking like a true yogi picture me saying "I practice yoga" with an expert's expression of superiority).
But I ran into some roadblocks. You see, after you leave college you actually have to start paying for things like fitness classes. Out of pocket. It was a reality for which I had not planned. Fortunately, I stumbled upon "Free Yoga Downloads" on my iTunes podcast and that is just what it claims to be: free downloads of yoga routines.
"Jackpot!" I thought. "I've beaten the system! I will practice my yoga from inside of my own house, completely free of charge. Ha!"
That was where I hit my second roadblock. Because here's the thing: it's, like, really hard to do yoga alone. Really. The five or so classes I'd taken in college did not in fact prepare me for a lifetime of yoga proficiency, as I had imagined they would. I soon realized that I had no idea how to do a proper Downward Dog without an instructor constantly tweaking my misshapen body parts. And then there were the poses I'd never even heard of (Half Pigeon? Chaturanga?). Not to mention it's nearly impossible to motivate yourself to stand in the same pose for ten minutes (okay, maybe two) without twenty other people there to judge you if you fail.
Needless to say, after a few halfhearted Sun Salutations, I gave up on yoga.
… And picked up yoga's distant but similarly popular cousin, Pilates. To me, Pilates seemed like yoga, only faster and less dull. I bought several DVDs straight out of the gate and got to work. It was fun, and I was totally motivated. That is, until I'd gone through every routine on each DVD five times, at which point it became unbearably boring and repetitive. So I gave my DVDs to a friend who had recently quit yoga.
I went in search of something else, something exciting and engaging, something that would yield dramatic results. I eventually found Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred.
You may have heard of the workout; it's kind of a legend in its own time. Comprised of three intensely difficult 20-minute workouts, the video claims anyone can lose up to 20 pounds in one month. That seemed dramatic enough, so I tried it.
I'll spare you most of the details, but by day six I'd darn near given myself a hernia. I'm not joking.
So this summer I committed myself fully to just one thing no fancy routines or equipment, no bells and whistles, a completely free and pain-free workout.
Claire, here's a news flash from your Old Man: it never gets any easier.
Worse yet, you can't pay anybody to do it for you. I have a yardman to cut the lawn and prune the shrubs. We have a cleaning company that gives the inside of our house a good tune up every two weeks. But I still have to do my own workouts.
Like my daughter, I've dabbled in the occult. About three years ago, I signed on to a yoga class at my university. I felt like a whale swimming among dolphins … Mopey Dick, amuck in a school of graceful porpoises. Skipping past Pilates, I went right to Spin. Spin can best be described as cardio Russian roulette on a stationary cycle. I quit before I had a heart attack.
Now my thrice-weekly workout is a half hour on a cycle, peddling at my own pace, followed by 100 reps on the weight machines.
None of this is enough to return my waist to the way it was even 10 years ago. That's partly because I like cheap red wine and plentiful portions of pasta. But mostly it's because of Sir Isaac Newton, he who discovered gravity. Albert Einstein also gets a share of the blame, he of the theory of relativity.
At age 60, if not earlier, gravity combines with relativity to move a man's body weight around in weird ways. The hard, flat chest that tanned so beautifully each summer at the Shore sprouts male boobs. The mid-section pops a pair of matching saddlebags. The butt blossoms bumptiously.
Plastic surgeons have solutions for all these deformities: male breast reduction; liposuction; the tummy tuck; buttock deflation (or something like that). Problem is: my health insurance carrier doesn't understand that a wounded ego is a legitimate injury worthy of coverage.
And, so, I will retain these unappealing physical features, despite my three or four trips per week to the gym, until my bumps and bulges rot with the rest of my aged carcass.