On exercise

I live, for these intents and purposes, in the suburbs. Unwalkable, hostile suburbs. As such, getting exercise is something that must be done with some intentionality, and perhaps even more so in the past year. We even went so far as to buy an elliptical (for me) and some sort of biking contraption I don’t fully understand (for my husband).

When I have lived in more urban (read: less hostile) areas, exercise (mostly in the form of walking) was a matter of course, no real intentionality other than trying to go from point A to point B, potentially whilst carrying heavy loads. I have, in my past, gone through phases where I’ve been a jogger never going much further beyond completing the occasional 5K. And of course, I have yoga. I will always have yoga.

Still, it was something of a surprise to me when nine or so months into the pandemic, I realized I hadn’t really been exercised, barely moved it seemed, constrained, as it were, by a feeling that the virus was, well, everywhere and that breathing too deeply or moving through public space at all meant certain infection. I’m being hyperbolic. Well, sort of. Because something about the pandemic has made me feel a bit hemmed in, not just physically to my home, but also it’s dropped the idea of movement, of exercise down a long list of things that must get done, things to do. Ironic, of course, given the impact of exercise on overall physical (and mental) health.

I’ve cranked it up again more recently. Initially I was walking a lot through my neighborhood. Walking outside can feel like a particularly dangerous activity for women and others viewed as vulnerable and adding the car traffic dangers in my area, walking felt like a bridge too far for me. I resorted to the elliptical, which was effective to a degree, but I’ve always known that I’d need to mix it up more and get some higher impact exercise in my legs.

With the longer, sunnier days of summer, I decided to try out running again outdoors in the morning before it became debilitatingly hot. This worked for about a week. And it was a lovely week, but on the last day, I went out for about a 5K run down to a nearby wooded path. The path ended up being rather crowded with pedestrians and cyclists and the run to get there and back felt, well, dangerous with cars far exceeding the speed limits on a road I had to step into for the too narrow (for social distancing or due to a parked car) sidewalk.

When I used to run outside of my own yard, these were some of the flowers I saw: Black-eyed Susans, asters, Queen Anne’s lace.

I came back from that run simultaneously triumphant for having run as far as I had and with jittery and jangled nerves due to nearly being hit by a car.

I knew that exercising was good for lowering cortisol but with the car traffic and dangers, I was also feeling cortisol spikes, undoing all of the “good” work of the running. Going for a run next to speeding cars was undoing the point of exercise in the first place, making the whole thing a draw, a waste of time.

So, this week, I’ve started to run in my own yard. I know. I have moments when I’m feeling a bit like a caged animal doing this so I must also do unanimalistic things like listen to a good audiobook whilst running in my yard. I’ve seen a couple of videos of people running entire marathons in their yards or even along their balconies in the past year during various lockdowns. Back and forth. Back and forth. And whilst I’m not restricting myself to my yard because of a deadly virus but rather because of deadly car traffic, I’m buoyed by the idea that I’m not the only one doing this. And that I will be doing maybe a 10K in a few months time. Hardly a marathon or even a half.

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