EXERCISE WITHOUT TEARS (OR GYMS)

(BUT WITH PHOTOGRAPHY)

Some people actually like physical exercise for its own sake. Frances, for example, loves dancing and took ballet classes for over half a century. I have friends who ride bicycles for long distances, just for the fun of it, and one friend who teaches martial arts. On the other hand, merely because it works for someone else is no reason why it should work for me. There is them as likes that sort of thing, and them as doesn't; and I am firmly on the side of them as doesn't. For me, exercise is a means to an end. Today this is losing weight or at least not gaining too much; with any luck, not dying too soon and preferably without unnecessary pain. At school, it was a means of avoiding punishment. 

To start at the nadir, I can imagine few things more awful than paying large sums of money to take mindless exercise in a gymnasium, pedalling a stationary bicycle, rowing a stationary boat, or raising and lowering weights for the sake of raising and lowering weights. 

Track and field events are equally pointless. I am (or used to be) quite good at throwing cannonballs, as long as I am required to do so in as inefficient a manner as possible. What else, after all, is the shot put? I am however no good at running. I don't like it, and I'm slow. My chum John was the exact opposite: no good at throwing cannonballs, but a good runner. What of it? He used to be able to run faster than I. Usain Bolt ran faster than he. And? Throwing cannonballs (or spears, or discuses); running; jumping: what profiteth it a man (or woman, or boy or girl)? 

For me, the pleasures of the mind and spirit are infinitely greater, whether active (writing a poem or a short story, or taking a picture) or passive, such as reading a book. This of course makes me an "elitist". Striving for any form of excellence other than physical is for the most part incomprehensible to those whose intellectual limitations confine them to the physical.

Team sports are very little better. The amount of mental effort they require is usually minimal, especially in the case of the rugby or cricket that I was forced to play at school. Unless you are really keen, in fact, team sports are worse than mindless. Rather, they rely on blind, robotic obedience to the Keen Types, those who actually understand what is going on (which I seldom did) and also care what is going on (which I never did). First, the Keen Types tell you where to stand. They may or may not bark instructions, which are often meaningless or pointless or both. Next they get really upset when you fail to do what they seem to think is important, which it never is. They then go on to tell you so, in no uncertain terms. 

The only sport I ever actually enjoyed, and indeed practised voluntarily after I left school, was fencing; which is rather more intellectual than most sports. Then I went to California for a few weeks, where I broke my ankle (so I couldn't fence for a while anyway), and met Frances (so I had better things to do than return to fencing). That was the end of my sporting career. I was thirty. 


Splitting logs and riding a bicycle, preferably not at the same time, strike me as vastly preferable to going to the gym

So what do I do now? Well, several times a week, I cycle to the next village. The baker there is vastly better than ours. It's not far: a bit under 7km, a little over four miles, though there is an absolutely ferocious hill at one point. This brings me to another point about those who bang on about exercise. There's always someone who will tell you that you are never doing enough. Thirty or forty kilometres a week? It should be a hundred! Or a hundred a day! Sod 'em. Any exercise is better for you than one. 

What else? Well, in winter, there's log splitting. It's surprisingly hard work, especially if you use a 2 lb (1 kg) wedge and a 7.5 lb (3.5 kg) sledge hammer, and the average log weighs 10 lb or more.(5 kg). Twenty minutes of this probably qualifies as the "20 minutes hard exercise" that the exercise police tell you is the minimum you should do every day. Certainly, if I do more than about 20 minutes, my right arm lets me know the next day.

And there's always photography. This may not sound much like exercise, but I can think of at least two ways that it is.  One is going for a walk. For me, a walk on its own is not something I enjoy much. Yes, I know I should be able to grok the fullness and so forth, but this is much like someone who enjoys running telling me that I should enjoy running. I just don't. Having my camera with me gives some point to the exercise, much as buying bread gives some point to my bicycling and splitting logs provides fuel for my fire. In the summer I combine the walk and the photography with my love of vide-greniers: often I'll walk a mile or two, or more, on a sunny Sunday. In the winter, there's the challenge of finding interesting subjects on cold, dreich days.


Looking for pictures makes me more aware of my surroundings; reviewing them afterwards is a useful way to get better as a photographer

The other way to get exercise from photography is unexpectedly enough in the studio or even in the back yard, especially if I use one of my large format cameras. The physical effort of moving heavy cameras and camera stands; of climbing and descending step-ladders; of moving lights; of setting up the camera, then going back to the camera, repeated countless times; all of this is real exercise.

In fact, I've just thought of a third way I used to get exercise from photography. At university I used to cycle more or less frequently to most of the camera stores in Birmingham. Quite often I'd find bargains I could sell on at a profit.At the very least, I'd find bargains I could use. 

What else? Well, working on the Land Rover is quite hard work. Climbing on and off, for a start: in order to work on the engine, I need to stand on the front bumper or use a step-stool. Lifting large lumps of metal: a differential is extremely heavy. Even jacking the thing up is non-negligible exercise.

There are countless other ways to add a few minutes' exercise to my day. Parking as far from the supermarket as is convenient, for example, instead of as close to it as possible. Walking to the shops, or the doctor's, or the old folks' monthly dinner. It may only be a five minute walk, but I am constantly surprised at the number of people who drive. Taking the stairs whenever possible, instead of the lift or moving staircase.

But what I would never do, even if I could afford it, is join a gym. 


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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017