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In defence of exercise

I have a peculiar relationship with exercise. On one hand, I do a lot of it; definitely enough for baseline physical fitness and almost enough to placate the nanny state. 10,000 steps a day, you say? Get me in a hyper mood and that’ll be 10,000 giant leaps. On the other hand, when naysayers roll their eyes, I’ll be the first to admit the downsides.

Perhaps the key problem with exercise is this: it simply isn’t very interesting. Fitness freaks are altogether too regimented. They’re too disciplined. Very few of them moonlight as louche intellectuals, posing enigmatically for black-and-white photos while blowing smoke rings in the shape of an occult symbol.

Then there’s the fact it hurts. If your body likes to amble, it won’t thank you for being forced into a canter. Run outside on a cold windy day and your nose drips, your muscles burn, your stomach churns; your throat feels like you’re inhaling a machete. It doesn’t help that at this time of year, exercise always reads as a New Year’s resolution.

So this considered, why do I bother? Well, that’s the part I always struggle to explain. But, for the purposes of polemic, here are five points in its favour:


Whenever you’re feeling stabby, it’s a great way of diverting all that energy. Even if you’re fine to begin with, there’s a sense of sweeping away the mental cobwebs and thoroughly spring-cleaning your mind.

It’s a bit like drugs

At a certain point into your workout, it’s possible to reach a trance-like state. Good way of channelling an addictive personality, without having to contend with cirrhosis (booze), emphysema (fags) or a septic belly button (piercings).

Sense of achievement

Yesterday I hit the treadmill, planning to run for 20 minutes. Instead I ran for 48 minutes and 11 seconds, and consequently completed my best ever 10k. I’d got on that treadmill feeling rubbish and defective; I disembarked from it buzzing.

Sense of toughness

I also felt tough. Physically, and by extension mentally. It’s easy at times to view oneself as weak; a sad, squishable aphid of a person overwhelmed by this world of emo pain. Far harder to maintain such an illusion when you’re on course to cracking walnuts with your arse cheeks.

Better body

I don’t know if exercise makes you look better. But hell, does it make you feel better. You get a better sense of what your body needs; you inhabit your own skin with greater ease. So what if my legs aren’t long and skinny and coltish; I bet they could beat most supermodels in a race.

And there we have it. Of course, I’m not going to convert anybody with this spiel – it’s just that running is the penance I serve for all the booze and crisps.


Categories: Fitness stuff

Abi Millar

British freelance journalist living in the Netherlands

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