Health & Fitness

The trick to motivating yourself to exercise is to find a form of exercise that five power lifters could not tear you away from.

An extra decade of health, energy, abs, romance and cheap life insurance should motivate most of us to stay fit, but many of us can't see past the time, sweat, and effort required for fitness. A perfect diet may keep us slim, but only exercise can produce the muscular and cardiovascular strength that is fitness. Many people equate fitness with working out, yet a couple of hundred million of us in this country alone agree with me that working out bites. Thus today's prominent health question is, "How do I motivate myself to exercise?"

Goal-oriented people have the will power and vision to huff and puff and pump their fancy machines or shoes until their little hearts also become machines that will hum for 90 years, then quit in their sleep after a day of vigorous exercise, a gourmet meal and two hours of great sex. Their goals keep them focused on the means, so they stay fit. (That ... or their driven personalities will kill 'em at 60.)

I admire people with the will power and motivation to follow rigid diets, eat with scales and calculators, and work out with digital displays and progress charts. I envy the small percentage of them who actually enjoy all this rigor; they're the accountants of the fitness boom. And I am downright awed by people who can actually keep up these demanding, rigorous programs for a lifetime. More power to you!

The rest of us, the process-oriented hedonists, had better enjoy the means, 'cause the end -- great physical condition -- lies beyond the end of our nose, too far away for us to see. For us, the key word in "working out" is "work" -- which ruins it for us. If we don't find some exercise we enjoy, we're doomed to a short life on a long couch shooting a 12-gauge remote at a big TV linked to 600 channels.

Our salvation lies in the fact that working out is not the only form of exercise. Let me emphasize that for those who equate exercise with gyms, chrome, and digital displays: WORKING OUT IS NOT THE ONLY FORM OF EXERCISE.

We were all were born knowing this, at least subconsciously: tell a "normal" 10-year-old to pump a rowing machine for 30 minutes, and he'll holler, "NO! That's too much work! ". Then he'll go out and play hard for six hours.

Let him! He's well on his way to dying in his sleep at 90 after a day of windsurfing, great food, and great sex, 'cause if parents don't kill the play ethic, it's going to take nature 90 years to kill the kid.

Many goal-oriented people enjoy ... even crave ... competition and the prospect of winning. Another large group -- the process-oriented -- crave play for its own sake, and probably don't even keep score. Both of these groups are lucky if something they love also keeps them fit, able, and energized. As long as the Energizer Bunny keeps beating that damned drum 'til Woody Allen makes another good movie, who cares whether it's because he's counting drumbeats or because he just loves beating the drum? Whether it's the tally or the process that keeps him going and going and going, he probably says with every stroke, "This sure beats a treadmill!" He's going to keep beating that drum until he's 90 -- if one of us doesn't dispatch the noisy little rodent first.

I'm surrounded by thousands of buff bodies -- and many soft, sore, puffing, weekend warriors -- of all ages in the Columbia River Gorge and in Maui, and by similar but smaller gaggles on lakes across the country ... all windsurfing. I see them on expensive, highly motivating exercise machines such as dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes, on cheaper exercise machines such as roller blades, skis, snowboards and skateboards, and on courts of all types -- racquetball, volleyball, basketball, and tennis. And more and more of them are inching their way up cliffs in gear that costs less than a great meal, climbing where, just a decade ago, only ants dared.

These are the huge legions of people who hate "working out" as much as Rosanne (hates working out), yet alter their careers and families and leave work at quitting time for their right to exercise. Only they call it ... play.

These lucky millions whose wise parents never taught them that play is only for children will stay in shape and keep shouting, "It's MILLER time!" until they drop dead on their 90th birthday after a great day of hard play, a great meal, and a great roll in the hay. Their 40-year-old couches will have been used primarily by a succession of hard-bodied labrador retrievers, their black and white TVs will be permanently tuned to The Weather Channel, and the clothes they wore under their graduation robes still fit. Even if the robe now fits better than those old clothes, they can at least still enjoy 36 holes on foot.

These are the people whose low blood pressures and heart rates initially alarm doctors, who make sure they get enough ice cream and pancakes to keep from getting too thin, who don't need alarm clocks because they can't wait to get up and play some more at the office or on their toys. Many of them love their work, or find work they do love, because they know how much fun things can be if they choose fun things. Circular logic? Nope ... just logic.

It's never too late to start playing again. Find an activity you enjoy, from square dancing to tennis to racing snowmobiles crosscountry, and take it from there. If you really enjoy it, you will make time to do it. A real career- wrecker, for example, is windsurfing, because windy days don't confine themselves to weekends, and because windsurfing offers such endlessly complex varieties that it never gets boring. I know skiiers who claim they mastered -- and got bored with -- all the racing, the moguls, and the hot-dogging, then switched to windsurfing because of the larger variety of challenges it offers in addition to light-wind scenic cruising.

Because of that, and because our editor offered me five cents and a chewing gum recipe to address windsurfing, I'll discuss windsurfing next month as an example of a versatile, addictive, widely available activity that offers excellent opportunities for exercise from our pre-teens into our 80s. It's just one of the many forms of play that can keep many of us energized to keep beating that drum until that magical night in our 90s.

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