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January 9, 2012

Mayan Calendars, Mayan Onions

Did you make any New Year's resolutions?

I made a few small goals for 2012, assuming the planet stays intact. I love that NASA felt the need to issue a press release stating that the world will not actually end in 2012, it was comforting to those of us who enjoy a good press release with a glass of merlot. Those crazy Mayan onions and calendars! Predicting nothing but onion rings and apocalypse.

Since many people use the new year as a time to berate themselves for the onion rings of months past and start a new exercise regime, I thought this email from reader Kathryn was timely:

How do you separate the idea of exercise for weight loss from the idea of exercise just for the sake of it? Who exercises just for the sake of it?

You can almost hear the unspoken, "... you crazy weirdo!" at the end of the note. I can appreciate the strangeness of this idea, it's like getting a Brazilian bikini wax without getting any lovin' the next weekend. Who does that wacky nonsense?

Well, some folks.

Try to think back to a time before exercise was a mandatory condition for fitting into an arbitrary pair of jeans. What was it like to be a kid and want to go ride bikes? Or roller skate? Remember in the summer when all you wanted to do was stay in the pool just five more minutes? Please, mom? Just five more minutes!

When I was a teenager something fizzled and went wrong with the messages because exercise became about looks and sizes and weight. Untangling that took some time but was well worth it. (When I say it took some time, I mean "years.") I'm not sure the best way to untangle it for yourself. You may have to experiment with different activities and new motivations. What I can tell you for sure is that there are psychological benefits from exercise that you simply can't get from a diet. Bodies were meant to be moved around. I happened to find a simple, cheap thing I enjoy -- walking -- but it can be anything as long as it makes you feel good. Gardening is exercise. Cleaning house is an excellent workout (there's a little shout-out to my OCD homies! woot woot!) Yoga, swimming, softball, playing with the dog in the backyard, chasing a kid, these are all activities that can be as weight-neutral as nail polish.

Over the weekend I was walking in the Hollywood Hills and as I was midway up a particularly challenging slope, I heard the sound of bicycles wheezing up the hill.

"You can do it, Jonah!" said the dad. "Keep pedaling, buddy!"

It was a dad and two pre-teen-ish kids, a boy and a girl. The dad kept saying encouraging things to both kids to get them up the hill, and as they passed me I heard him say something that gave me a little stab.

"OK, Justine, we're almost to the top, make it this far and you've earned that ice cream!"

I cringed. I thought about how careless it was as a remark, certainly not intended to give a kid body issues for the next 30 years. But all the same it was the subtle beginning of associating a bike ride with work, earning, payoff. And associating food with work, burn, sweat it off. Can't a kid just go for a bike ride anymore? Do we really have to earn our ice cream? What the heck happened to us, people?

It used to be fun just to get on the bike and pedal hard up a hill. Remember? Before the Mayans had us on our last onion ring?

Posted by laurie at January 9, 2012 2:38 PM