Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Returning to Childhood

198 pounds
In my last post, I talked about the first component of my no-diet approach—the importance of indulging from time to time. Now I want to get into the second component, which I like to think of as a return to childhood.

When I was a kid, I had a schedule that looked something like this:

7 a.m.—wake up/shower/get ready for school/eat breakfast
7:45—walk 1/4 mile to bus stop
8:00—ride bus to school
8:15—goof around on playground while waiting for school to open
12-12:30—recess on playground
2:30—ride bus home
2:45—walk 1/4 mile home from bus stop
3:00—eat snack and talk to Mom
3:30-5:30—bike/hike around neighborhood or attend cheerleading/tennis practice
5:30-7:00—eat dinner, help with dishes, etc.
7:00—outside for one last bike ride/game of hoops/check-in with neighborhood kids
7:30—reluctantly do homework/watch TV/read
10:00—go to bed

I have made this schedule to point out how much exercise I got as I kid. Every weekday when school was in session, I walked to and from the bus stop, which took almost 30 minutes when I was little, and played on the playground for about 45 minutes. After school, I was pretty much just like those kids in E.T.—biking or hiking around the neighborhood for approximately two and a half hours a day, if not more. That's almost four hours of exercise every single day! Can you imagine how fit you'd be if you got four hours of exercise every weekday??? You'd look like Halle Berry!

It's true that we need more food when we're kids because we're still growing, but sometimes when I think about how much exercise we got when we were young, I wonder if we could eat whatever we want now if we merely returned to the schedule we kept as youngsters. Casual exercise burns about 250 calories an hour, so if we all exercised four hours a day, we could eat 1000 extra calories per day! That's the equivalent of three and a half McDonald's cheesburgers!

The other thing that's notable about my childhood schedule is that I spread my exercise throughout the day. How many of us exercise more than once a day as adults? I'd be willing to bet that almost no one does that after the age of eighteen. It's hard enough to fit in a workout once a day. But twice a day? Three times a day? Forget it.

Or am I wrong? My morning workout as a child consisted of a fifteen-minute walk to the bus stop. Is it really that hard to squeeze in a fifteen-minute walk each morning? Some people walk their dog every morning while others walk to work or walk their kids to school. When I lived in D.C. in my twenties, I used to ride my bike both ways to work, starting and ending my work day with fifteen minutes of exercise, in addition to playing tennis or doing aerobics about two to three times a week. It's no longer possible for me to walk or bike to work, but that doesn't mean that I can't fit in some other kind of exercise first thing in the morning and right after I get home.

Also, it's baffling to me when I think of how many different kinds of physical activities I participated in when I was a kid. I walked and rode my bike just about every single day, and I played tennis or basketball or participated in gymnastics or cheerleading about three or four days a week at the least. I also swam just about every day all summer and roller skated and skateboarded whenever I could. When I was a teenager, I took up both snow and water skiing, the latter of which I did a minimum of four days a week all summer long, a time when I also was playing tennis on the high school team, which required four to seven days a week of practice both on- and off-season.

And that's only scratching the surface. In addition to my regular activities, I bowled, I scrambled over jungle gyms, I jumped on trampolines, I mini-golfed, I rode the swing in my backyard so high that I thought I might go over the top of the swingset, I played softball and kickball, tag and hide-and-seek, kick the can, you name it. I did it all. We all did. Exercise was as much a part of our lives as breathing. And it was fun! For God's sake, it was called playing. But now exercise has become a chore. We even call it "working out." Why on earth would anyone want to work out?

This raises the question, when was the last time you did something active that was fun, something outside of your normal exercise routine? My feeling is that if it's been more than a week, it's been too long.

I guess my point is that, as adults, we are trained to believe that we should try to "work out" three to five days a week for 30-60 minutes a day, and I think those numbers are W A Y below where they need to be unless we are willing to starve ourselves. I think we have to exercise EVERY day for at least 60 minutes a day and more often than not shoot for 90-120 minutes a day minimum. Can we count things like washing dishes or vacuuming? Sure, but cleaning can't be the only component of our exercise regime. What I believe is that it's just as important to enjoy exercising as it is to do it and that, in a sense, we have got to return to our childhood, to a time when we played rather than worked out.

Finally, it's notable that I exercised after almost every meal when I was a kid. I walked to the bus stop after breakfast, played during my half-hour recess after lunch, wandered the neighborhood on my bike following my after-school snack, and ran outside for one last adrenaline-fueled hurrah after dinner.

What if I did that now? What if I followed every meal with a solid 15-30 minutes of aerobic activity? Again, I think I'd be more than ready for my moment on the red carpet.

And so, that's what I'm trying to do, what I've always tried to do some extent, but what I'm more committed to now than ever. I have my regular exercise routine—which consists of walking or playing tennis for an hour a day—but I'm trying to supplement that with fun things like biking, swimming, hiking and canoeing or shooting hoops or playing ping pong and mini-golf.

It's not as much as when I was a kid, but it's a start.

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