The One Real Benefit of Exercise

Years ago, during my thirties and forties, I used to exercise to a video tape featuring Beverley Callard, otherwise known as Liz McDonald (of all people) from Coronation Street.  But it turns out that Beverley’s other job was being a fitness instructor and her video was full of ‘ordinary people, just like you’ who made up her exercise class. This video lasted well over an hour and during that time I would jump around our back room (it had to be the back room so nobody out on the street could witness me prancing around) gradually ruining its (then) carpet and occasionally bumping painfully into the furniture when my pirouetting got a bit out of hand.

I became sort of obsessed with the type of aerobic exercise the video featured and didn’t feel ‘right’ until I’d ‘done’ my Corrie star’s tape every single day.  Now, at 57, I’m amazed that I had the energy and stamina to complete, on a daily basis, what had been a pretty strenuous exercise regime, which included punishing abdominal exercises, and a thing where I had to lie on my side and stick one leg straight in the air, lower it back down again, then up in the air again, over and over again.  I used to go to an exercise class at the local school too, once a week on an evening, where we all aerobically bopped around and then slowly wound down to Pure Shores by All Saints, a song I inexplicably loved, being I’m no fan of your average girly pop band.  I would be in exercise heaven when All Saints blasted out from our leader’s massive radio/CD player.

Unfortunately, after a few short months, our teacher announced, with the biggest grin and the hugest look of relief written all over her face, that she was leaving us to take up the job of a lifetime on a cruise ship, and promptly exited the hall without so much as a by your leave.  I hadn’t been that surprised by her swift exit, being that she usually spent every session whinging about how she couldn’t get a job as a dancer, which was what she really wanted to do, giving the distinct impression that leading our motley bunch of mostly young mothers was the equivalent of getting life’s very short straw.

All this mad exercising was then cut short by a severe case of viral labyrinthitis in 2003, which left me with permanent, intrusive tinnitus and recurring episodes of dizziness, to this day.  So I began going on a daily walk instead, mostly as a way to try and escape the incessant tinnitus (it didn’t work) but then found that I loved walking.  I could go at my own pace and there was absolutely no jumping around with arms and legs akimbo.  It was better by far than your exercise tapes, or your aerobics instructors who didn’t want to be there.  And you sort of got fresh air (plus a few pollutants) and the trees and flowers, and you could snoop into people’s houses.  But then a couple of years ago I stopped the daily walking too and lapsed into overweight, bone idle middle-age.  Until recently when we began weekend jaunts, which sometimes involve walking up a very large hill about 20 miles away.  And a couple of days ago it occurred to me that I should really start doing aerobic type exercises again.

So I consulted the great God Google.  He (I feel Google is male) that is all Code.  He the omniscient.  He the great minister and yet servant of man.  Invisible and yet omnipresent.  I’m thinking Google could be the next world religion actually.  I’m definitely a willing Googlelyte.

I begged Google to find me ‘exercises for the middle-aged that won’t kill you.’  And, from within Google’s gigantic, magical hive-like brain, came the answer, in the form of a Jane Fonda video.  Now Jane was big in aerobics when I was but a child, and was famous for her ‘feel the burn’ mantra, which has since been discredited in favour of the ‘stop exercising immediately if you so much as feel a twinge in your big toe’ mantra.  Jane is now 80 and a supposed icon to women of all ages, instructing us in the Fondastic ways of how to stay thin, vibrant and beautiful…………… if you want that in Hollywood terms; develop an eating disorder, over exercise until you need every joint replaced and employ a good plastic surgeon.

But you can’t deny that Jane is a positive thinking, powerhouse of geriatric energy.  I know this because today I did Jane’s walking cardio workout – level 1 on YouTube.  This is the 75 year old version of Jane giving us oldies a nice, gentle 20 minute aerobic session, in what might be her palatial, film star lounge.  ‘This looks ok,’ thought I, dressed in a pair of ancient summer shorts and an equally ancient t-shirt with a hole in it, whilst Jane was resplendent in custom made, tight fitting, alluring joggers and a miniscule, very revealing vivid green top.  Already Jane, 23 years my senior, was way ahead of me.  ‘Yes, this doesn’t look too drastic,’ I continued to mumble, as Jane sprang instantly into her routine.

Twenty minutes later I could be found slumped in a chair, as the room gently span in front of my eyes and my right thigh did more than just twinge with pain.  The most pressing question was, would my 57 year old heart give out?  I stumbled carefully upstairs and lay stretched out on the bed, taking my pulse using the bedside alarm clock.  The pulse rate wasn’t too alarming and at least the room had stopped spinning.  I lay in a sort of nervous stupor, waiting for something terrible to happen to the body that had been a stranger to aerobic exercise for so long.

‘How does geriatric Jane do it?’  I mused, whilst telling my 57 year old self to pull itself together.  ‘I mean Jane has severe osteoporosis, and a metal knee and a metal hip, and she had a non-invasive cancerous tumour cut out of her breast (found on a routine mammogram – how I hate mammograms); and recently had cancer removed from her lip; and she had bulimia for 25 years until she was 46, replacing the eating disorder with manic exercise (earning herself millions in the process.)  She then took Prozac to stabilise her anxiety before going into complete suicidal meltdown.  And yet here she is, still jumping around in her fake living room, absolutely full of 75 year old beans, whilst I’m done for on my bed.

*****

Jane’s easy cardio routine involves basically marching on the spot for 20 minutes, with a few arm movements thrown in and a couple of lunges and side steps.  Back in my thirties I would have laughed in your face if you’d have called that an exercise routine; now, around the 10 minute mark, I was begging Jane to stop.  Plus, as this was my first ‘go’ at the video, I was having trouble keeping up with Jane’s rapid changes in aerobic movements and frequently stepped with the wrong foot or swung the wrong arm over my head (as a side note here, every upwards swing of my arms produced an acute pain in my ribs, akin to being stabbed. )  Jane promised me that at the end of the 20 minute routine I’d have walked a mile and that I should aim to do her video 3-4 times a week.

There is a level 2 version of Jane’s walking cardio routine which I had also (I can now see foolishly) bookmarked as part of my exercise plan.  It’ll probably take until my seventies to work my way up to level 2, so level 1 is my ongoing exercise plan, in spite of the dizziness, and the stabbing pains but, thus far in, the benefits of middle-aged aerobic exercise are eluding me.

*****

A few hours after writing this turgid nonsense, I trotted round the corner to purchase a loaf of bread and, on my way back, my right knee actually gave way.  It was struck by a sudden and vicious stab of pain (like my ribs had been) and seemed to lose all strength, so that I rapidly transferred all my weight to the other leg and limped home.  The affected knee was the one I fell on during our holiday in Wales and the graze I acquired in that fall still hasn’t fully disappeared.  So my Jane Fonda exercise routine has been firmly put on permanent hold, as I now see no benefit at all to participating in ludicrous arm swinging, middle-aged aerobics.

Unlike our habitual walk up our very big (almost vertical in places) hill which, on one Sunday a few weeks ago, turned out to be possibly the most beneficial bit of group exercising we’ve ever done in our lives, ever.

*****

There we were wending our way along the path, which leads to the foot of the hill, on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.  As usual there was absolutely nobody about on the vertiginous path we take up the hill.  The only living things were in the form of a huge flock of sheep, milling about at the end of our path, and directly in front of the gate we had to go through to access our bit of the hill.  I performed my usual manic screaming in the presence of ‘wild’ life, whilst the husband strode purposefully towards the sheep shooing them away.  I hung back whilst the sheep ran, as one, to the other side of the hill and then caught up with the husband and son no.3, who appeared to be inspecting the footpath.  ‘Look at this,’ the husband said, and waved a £20 note in front of my face.  ‘I just found it on the ground.’  Son no.3 then pointed out another £20 note lying on the ground about a yard away.  The husband rushed over to it.  ‘There’s another one!’  we all cried, and the husband picked it up. ‘And another one, and another one, and another one!’  We found £120 in all, just lying about on the path and in the grass.  It was the literal manifestation of the term ‘windfall.’  It was also surreal and unbelievable and had me on the verge of what the Victorians would have called female hysteria.

There’s a benefit of taking a spot of exercise that is never mentioned on any of the NHS websites.  Once back home I tried calculating the odds of finding such a windfall just lying about on the ground, like money really does grow on trees, and found them to be astronomical, being that this was the first time in our collective lives that money had  ever appeared as if by magic.

*****

This hill of ours gave rise to another incident last Sunday.  There we were, completely out of breath and pausing every 10 seconds in the effort to get up our vertical hill (my pulse registered nearly 4 beats to the second) when suddenly two horses galloped directly past us.  A large man riding an equally large brown horse and a woman seated on a small grey one.  Any very large animal that suddenly appears in my vicinity puts the wind up me, and this was particularly scary as these animals were so close.  I noticed the little grey horse was having great difficulty trotting up the hill – its breathing was heavy, there was thick saliva hanging from its mouth, its nostrils kept flaring in and out wildly and its eyes sort of looked a bit mad.  ‘Poor little horse,’ I said to the husband and son no.3.

‘Go on,’ the woman shouted at it, ‘you’re just being silly,’ and she forced it into a gallop, at which point one of its legs nearly gave way.  Despite my stammer I was very nearly tempted to say something to this woman, along the lines of ‘you try running up a hill with a horse on your back.’  We watched as the big brown horse effortlessly made it to the top, whilst its little grey friend stumbled along, head down.

After reaching the top of our hill we set off down the path that would take us back down.  About half way down this path, populated with a few walkers, the two horses suddenly reappeared and began galloping down the hillside at an alarming rate.  Thinking this was exceptionally dangerous behaviour when there were people about, I immediately pulled us all over to the side of the hill, as far away from the horses as I could manage.

The little grey horse, carrying what I now referred to as ‘that stupid woman,’ came careering down the hill, very obviously slightly out of control.  ‘She’s going to come off that horse,’ I opined to the husband, as we watched her backside bouncing up and down on the saddle, getting higher and higher with every bounce.  She was gripping the reins for dear life when suddenly she went flying straight over the horse’s head, did a sort of mid-air somersault, landed on her back and then got dragged part way down the hill, as her hand seemed to be caught in the rein.  The little grey horse’s front legs definitely struck her horse helmet, or whatever they’re called, a few times.

She managed to extricate her hand from the rein and then went tumbling down the hill, coming to rest at the bottom, as her horse galloped very scarily straight at her.  The bloke on the other horse went galloping over to the grey horse and tried to ‘push’ it out of her way using his own horse, whereupon she slowly got up. He tried to take control of the grey horse, which evaded him at every turn. By this time I was petrified that there was an out of control horse in our vicinity and kept looking for a tree to climb or hide behind, but the trees were miles away.

After watching that the woman was ok, we ambled off as she re-mounted her horse and went galloping off with her friend.  ‘I’m glad the horse got his own back,’ I said, feeling perfectly justified in saying it, being that the woman had shown a woeful lack of empathy for her horse in the first place, and had displayed a stupidity (and arrogance) of epic proportions in forcing it to gallop at top speed down a practically vertical incline in very near proximity to members of the public.  Like cars, horses are only dangerous, or in danger, when there’s a human ‘behind the wheel.’ It would seem that horse riding isn’t a very beneficial exercise after all…….particularly in the horse’s case.

2 thoughts on “The One Real Benefit of Exercise

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