My fitness habits, part 3: Exercise

July 19, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Fitness, Freedom

As I’ve written before, exercise for me is about the emotions it creates. I start exercises for joy, fun, friendship, etc. For many people exercise seems punishing. If I didn’t realize I, like anyone, could make exercise create whatever emotions I wanted and I felt stuck with punishment, I wouldn’t do it. Luckily I learned to find the joy, fun, etc in exercise — as anyone can — and built from there.


I’ve exercised consistently since I started running cross country in high school in the 80s. I was chubby as a kid — at least I remember my older step-brother teasing me about being chubby before I started sports.

Although they signed me up for little league baseball and soccer, I don’t remember my parents actively involved with sports for me. Though my father likes following the Phillies, he seemed to value the mind more than the body. As a result, I’ve never felt I was particularly athletic or that sports came naturally to me. When my teams made Nationals in Ultimate, I still felt I was swimming upstream or catching up at what came naturally to others.

I’ve never had extra weight since starting sports, especially with playing ultimate up to five days a week through college, grad school and beyond. Plus five marathons.

How I exercise

Developing the skills to learn to like exercise — no, liking being active doesn’t come naturally, I developed it through discipline and training — means I don’t have to push myself to do it. My main challenge is getting rid of obstacles. Consider my favorite activities. Ultimate requires a team. Skiing requires snow, a mountain, and equipment. I think it also pollutes a lot. I played ultimate as long as I could easily compete with a team. Skiing I do when I can, but the pollution aspect is decreasing its appeal.

I’ve gravitated toward exercises that require less and less equipment, money, and time. After coordinating ultimate became too difficult, I moved to running marathons, which required only shoes and clothing, though going to Central Park required commuting. When I moved away from Columbia’s campus and its free gym, I only used a for-pay gym for a couple years before switching to running. I’ve run in rain and freezing cold, but I prefer cool sunny days. I used to bike a lot, but it required a lot of equipment and the unlimited Metrocard made commuting free, removing a major use for biking.

Then I started yoga too, which also only need clothing. Yoga added cost for the instructor and coordinating schedules and commuting, but weather didn’t affect. Then I got a rowing machine, which didn’t even need shoes. It required no coordinating time or weather.

Then came burpees, which did away with any equipment at all. I can do them in hotel rooms, outside, wherever. They seem the best all-around exercise and I expect only to stop if something yet better comes along. It’s tough to beat zero cost, zero weather dependence, a couple minutes a day, zero equipment, and enjoyable.

I found a group that plays ultimate in Shanghai, so I’m playing twice a week this summer, something I didn’t expect to do as a forty-year-old. This is the first time I’m playing just for fun, with no team competition on the horizon, but I find the sport the best team sport ever created and the community of players among the best communities around. Again, exercise for me is about friendship, which includes community and ultimate has consistently brought me the best of all of these things over more then two decades. Ultimate exercises you as well as anything.

I’m always going to run distance. I’m sure I’ll run more marathons. I enjoy the wind against my skin and the feeling of exhaustion afterward. Possibly my favorite part of New York City is Central Park, and probably my favorite part of Central Park is running laps of it. I love feeling spent — reminding me of Vince Lombardi’s

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hours – his greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.

I probably think of that quote a couple times a week. Again, I’ve made sports and exercise activities that bring me joy and reward.

Activities in regular life

That the picture at the top of this page shows me swimming across the Hudson River, you can probably guess I like active activities. I don’t like sitting around all day.

I prefer stairs to elevators and walking to taxis. I usually walk up the four flights to my apartment. When I worked in a 19th floor office I often walked up once a week.

I wasn’t born liking sports and exercise. I’ve come to like them from focus, desire, discipline, sacrifice, and so on, like everyone else. Before I start my first burpee or run or nearly any exercise, part of me thinks about not doing it. Nearly every single time I ask myself why not skip just this once.

Then I do it.

How I develop exercise beliefs and habits

I don’t seek out information on exercise. When I come across information, I’ll incorporate it into my beliefs and habits. All the above beliefs and habits developed over years. If I could go back in time, I doubt I could implement them all at once if I tried.

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