Everyone from fat activists (shout out to the awesome Marilyn Wann!) to Health at Every Size proponents to feminists to creativity guru Julia Cameron have told us that moderate, comfortable exercise is a form of self-love, a way of caring for ourselves as though we were precious and worthy of love, regardless of our body size. I believe this with my whole heart.
I still don’t want to exercise.
My mother tells me that as a baby and small child, I was content to sit and watch the world go by while my brothers ran around nonstop. Nineteen years of having reconstructive surgeries on my right leg (due to bone cancer) reinforced my tendency to sit still and to move slowly when I must move at all (my motto: if no grizzly bears, snakes, or zombies are chasing you, then there is no need to move quickly). Now as an amputee, I have to be careful of sores on my skin caused by sweating and rubbing in my socket (the part that holds the prosthesis onto what’s left of my leg), which gets worse when I exercise.
I know that exercise significantly elevates my mood, strengthens the muscles necessary to walk with a prosthesis, lowers my bad cholesterol, helps keep my weight (somewhat) stable (necessary for my prosthesis to fit correctly), and helps relieve stress.
I still don’t want to do it.
Yet for the first time EVER, I am maintaining a moderate exercise program on my own for a sustained period (almost two years). It hasn’t made me thin; I’m still a voluptuous woman. But I did find a way to exercise which is, well, not horrible.
Essentially, I bribe myself with Kindle books to spend 45-60 minutes on an exercise cycle that is made to go under a desk (called, naturally enough, a desk cycle) so that—in theory—one can pedal while working (um, no!). I paired this with a “drum throne” stool that has a back rest and a saddle-shaped seat that doesn’t bang against the back of my prosthesis. Because these are two separate objects, I could place them at the exact distance and angle that works for my back, left leg, and prosthesis, and I did it fairly inexpensively (about $250 total). I mention this process just to point out that you can think outside the box and experiment to suit your body type, limitations, and interests.
Anyway, I pedal away while reading mysteries, thrillers, romances, vampire stories, and the occasional piece of literary fiction 4-5 mornings a week. And I don’t hate it. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either, and more importantly, I actually DO it consistently.
So what’s different this time? Why is this plan working?
I have tried buying other equipment, memberships to gyms, joining classes, and making work-out pacts with friends, but none of it works for long. I want to believe that if I know why this approach is working now, I can keep making it work indefinitely.
But the truth is that our bodies don’t stay stable; they are always changing in big and small ways—that’s the nature of being a body. We don’t live in brains; we live in bodies—messy, imperfect, vulnerable, wonderful, and often out of our control.
Our bodily needs, desires, and capacities change with, and often without, our consent. Unfortunately, this is as true when things are working well as when they are not. It’s true right now as I experience the minor miracle of exercising in a sustained, healthy, and reasonably comfortable manner.
For now, I’m pedaling away while reading Cathy Lamb’s latest novel, my legs pumping, sweat dripping down my back, grateful for the current moment, for however long it lasts.