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Want to exercise evermore? Read lots then

If you choose to, you can learn from anyone.

Even a top dog whose bark is in no way, shape, or form worse than his bite. A top dog better known as “The Cannibal.”

Eddy Merckx was such a great cyclist that the only way you omit his mug from your Mt. Rushmore of Cyclists is if your brain’s been damaged by the detonation of the dynamite and the jarring from the jackhammering building it. From 1967 to 1977 when he ate up the pro ranks, Merckx won 445 races.

Twenty-eight came in the Classics, the five yearly races that are the oldest, hardest, and most prestigious one-day races the pros do. Better yet, 11 of his wins were fastest-overall-time victories in those 20-day-long races called the Grand Tours, like the Tour de France.

Merckx won the TdF a record-tying five times while recording a record-tying 34 one-day stage wins.

Now that The Cannibal’s credentials have been established, consider his words, specifically the two he said to a reporter when asked what advice he’d give to young riders.

“Ride lots.”

Though I doubt he expected the young pups to take it to his nth degree, when Merckx was top dog in the cycling kennel, he regularly rode 45,000 miles a year.

That’s 865 miles per week and just thinking about it makes my legs and butt ache. So what’s this potential pain have to do with you?

I want those two dogs called your feet to exercise evermore, so I’ll ape Eddy’s laconic advice and tell you to “Exercise lots.” But that doesn’t mean ride 5,000 let alone 45,000 miles a year.

Instead I want you to take whatever amount of exercise you currently have in your mind to be a moderate amount and - for the sake of your health - exceed it to some degree, even if only marginally.

I know you can do this, and I also know what helps. It’s more two-word advice.

Read lots.

Because even if you’re as gung-ho about cycling as Eddy Merckx once was, there comes a time when the number of miles covered or hours ridden per week that meant “ride lots” before can be reached no more.

So you ride less obviously. What else can you do? Not ride at all?

Sadly, that’s what many of my former cycling buddies have done and here’s what happened. When they adopted an I’m-not-what-I-once-was attitude and did less, the entire cycling lifestyle lost its luster.

Worse, it made them feel like frauds.

I sometimes feel like a fraud when I jot in my journal a ride-lots ride that covers 60 instead of the 75 miles that was so routine just a few years ago. But something I do naturally fends off that feeling, and does it so well I feel like riding soon afterwards.

I read constantly. Anything and everything.

Classic literature. Contemporary marvels. Far-flung philosophy. Detective novels. Three daily newspapers.

I “read lots,” my friend.

I’m sure this advice would work for you and any form of chosen exercise because of - surprise, surprise - something I’ve read that English author Horace Walpole said: “The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.” Reading lots serves as a sort of an intellectual smorgasbord, allowing you to sup on stuff not cooked - though consumed - in your own mental kitchen and engenders all sorts of interest.

And after you taste foreign fare, a beautiful thing sometimes happens. Your mind links it to an old concern - and voilà.

Peace of mind returns as well as your motivation to exercise.

Here’s the most recent example of how reading lots helped me.

I was already feeling bummed out at the base of the final climb in a ride projected to take three hours because the first seven climbs were not up to snuff. When I stood for power on the first steep pitch, I swerved dramatically and nearly fell.

A piece of the spring in the right cleat had broken off.

I could no longer clip in to that pedal. To get home, I would need to remain seated at all times, pedal gingerly, and keep constant pressure on the right pedal.

I arrived home 21 minutes later than expected - and in one of the foulest, fed-up-with-cycling moods I had ever experienced.

I had no appetite, so I took a shower. At some point in the process, though, my appetite for both food and riding returned.

I remembered something I had read recently: “Comparison is the true thief of joy.”

Despite being 61 and suffering three major lower-body injuries during the last 13 of them, going slower on the bike still bothers me. Really bothers me - so much so that I fear it’s unhealthy.

But when my mind makes one of those beautiful links because I read lots, I get well pretty quickly.

As I ate, I remembered more and felt even better. A line from a book I had just reread, Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”: “We never graduate from first grade.”

That quickly I had a new plan. I wouldn’t climb as much as usual, but do more miles motoring over flatlands, incorporating short 90-percent efforts in an attempt to regain some the power I’ve lost from advancing age and three bad bone fractures.

I don’t know if the new plan will work, but I’m not sure if that matters. What does is that I’m chomping at the bit to train again.

And it’s because I “read lots.”