Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Being strong: why bother?

Why is this post starting with a douchey picture of me flexing? Why am I suddenly interested in physical fitness? What the hell is going on? We'll answer all of these questions and more if you'd just kindly continue reading.

As most of you probably know, about six months ago, I was hanging out with my son and saw a commercial for Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus. Previously, I had always scoffed at anything that tried to combine "working out" with "video games". It seemed completely contradictory to me. While I'd never actually looked into what this kind of thing was all about and how it actually worked, I'd already prejudged it. How human of me.

Anyway, we're watching this video, and suddenly I get it: it's simple stuff that you could easily do on your own, from yoga to weight training to aerobics, but the video game aspect of it keeps your interest level up and allows you to keep records of your workouts while giving you specific goals to meet. Well, that sounded good. But why was I interested in getting back in shape?

It's Not About Looking Buff
Honestly, it's never been an important thing for me to be big, or have extreme muscular definition. In fact, heh heh, I'd gone through a long time frame where I felt that those "gym people" were self-absorbed ego freaks, and I went out of my way to not be like them. I had a naturally thin physique most of my life, and other than a time frame in my late teens and early 20s where I was working out and being very physically active, I never really cared for anything to do with body strength, until my body started forcing the issue.

Why Being Strong is Good
Much of my 30s was filled with physical maladies. It was rare that a few months would go by without my having to have some urgent trip to see the chiropractor. My immune system was crap; if a breeze blew by, I'd end up catching a cold. I also had problems with chest pains, muscle spasms, fatigue, anxiety... it wasn't a good situation. Some of it, obviously, was stress-induced, but by leading a life that was devoid of exercise, I wasn't giving myself any outlet to alleviate the stress, or to give myself strength to help negate some of the other issues.

I also found out that starting at age 30, the human body tends to lose about 10% of its muscle mass each passing decade. You know how you see very frail-looking elderly men and women? I was giving myself a head start on that look, and the thought was frightening. Even at age 41, I could see some of those effects happening.

Finally, despite my thin frame, my metabolism finally started slowing down. I like to eat, and the collection of fat around my waist area was starting to become a concern.

I'm stopping at "in decent shape Zak". No need for "muscled out douche Zak".

Six Months of Wii-ing
Ironically, right around the time I got the Wii Fit Plus last December, I injured my rib cartilage carrying a laundry hamper across the street. It's like my body was saying, "Dude, it's now or never," so I started my daily Wii workouts on Christmas Day, and haven't stopped since.

Every morning, I wake up, get my son ready and sent off to school, and -- before I allow myself to start checking email, browsing the Internet, making work calls or anything else -- at 8am, I start my routine. The workout is very simple: I start with some yoga exercises which help get me limber (and improve my posture and circulation and metabolism and a number of happy things). I then do some strength training, which includes push-ups/side planks, twists, jackknifes (basically sit-ups), and more. Then I do 10-15 minutes of aerobics, including step exercises and the like. I then like to reward myself with some "exercise games" that still help work my body while actually being fun (I'd never have combined the words "fun" and "workout" in a sentence before now).

The whole thing takes exactly one hour, so at 9am, I'm at my desk and feeling terrific. Do I feel like working out every single morning I wake up? No, of course not. But I do it anyway, and I find that I feel great afterwards. Plus, the exercise euphoria often lasts a good portion of the day. My attitude and mood is better as a result, and I also react to stress better than I ever have before.

More importantly...

• Not one visit to the chiropractor in 2011 so far.
• No more muscle spasms, nor pain down my left side that I'd been experiencing for months.
• No trips to the ER for mysterious and distressing aches.
• More energy throughout the day.
• Happiness that I'm finally doing something good for myself.

I should mention, I think Kat's okay with my new muscley self.

Bottom Line
Most people start exercising because they're overweight. I never really had that impetus; on paper, at 5'11" and 165 pounds, it seemed that I was already in good shape. But numbers do lie in this case, and if I hadn't started my routine when I did, I am absolutely sure that this year would have marked the continuation of a big downfall in my overall health.

So, six months in, and no sign of slowing. I've supplemented my Wii workouts with a 12-pound dumbbell that I use in the afternoons, doing curls and triceps repetitions, and I'm even starting to consider quitting smoking, if you can believe it. But in any case, I'm unquestionably stronger than I've been in decades, I have to admit that I look pretty good for a guy who'll be 42 in a couple weeks, and I feel better -- mentally and physically -- all around. Based on that, I'd say that the Wii Fit Plus is full of win.


Mr. Crap Mariner said...

I thought about doing some kind of DVD-based or interactive platform workout... I may just go down that road now that you've given it a resounding review.

-ls/cm also turning 42 soon.

Zak Claxton said...

I hate offering advice on this stuff... first because I'm still pretty new at it (six months doesn't make me a fitness expert), and second because what works for me and my body might not be the bee's knees for anyone else's. You should definitely take a look at one of the videos to see if you think it might be something you'd want to do every day. I think this IGN review is very fair...