I’m going to tell you all something that should come as no surprise; I loathe exercise.
When I wake up in the morning I pour in Earl Grey tea and hope fortitude will get me through the day. I do walk my 35kg mastiff which is a challenge unto itself but that’s rostered under my “Take care of Pets” not exercise and therefore excusable.
Given we’re all trapped in our houses and even the introverts long for eye contact (who thought it would come to this?), I thought I’d seek out a professional. Someone wise in the way of regular physical activity that wasn’t smashing their head against the desk (it’s a writing activity not exercise).
Today on my blog one of the most physically fit whilst lying about his love of hiking writerly folk is here to talk about exercise, and why its important. Trey Stone is a gifted author who has taken the time to show us the importance of exercise and how you can include it in your daily schedule, but also the importance of physical health being attached to our mental health and positive attitudes.
I’m more than happy to talk about fitness, physical and mental health. It’s perhaps more important now than ever, with so much of the world in isolation.
First things first: I’m not a doctor, nor a personal trainer. Though I am married to one, I’m really just a guy who works out a lot, and over the last 14 months I have shed 20% of my body weight and I’m in the best shape of my life. But if you’re planning any major lifestyle changes, consult a professional.
So, why workout?
Other than the obvious physical benefits, like becoming faster, stronger, lighter and what have you, there’s a tremendous mental gain. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but being physically active does something to your state of mind. I guess the short answer is endorphins, but I’d say it goes beyond that.
There’s more than that short term feeling of happiness you get from physical exhaustion, when you do something over time and get better at something.
My main argument that this has to be true, is this: I don’t always like training. If I just did it for endorphins you’d imagine I loved it all the time, but in fact I often hate it. I make myself go workout 7 days a week, even when I don’t want to, because it makes me feel great after. In the long run. It makes me sleep better, think better, feel better, be better, and write better. (Also, I think I can see an ab.) Honestly, there’s so many great side effects of looking after your physical health.
So, what do you do if you’re new to training?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
First of all, you don’t need to workout 7 days a week. Almost nobody does. The only reason I do is because I have very specific goals I want to meet in a very specific time, and my personal trainer wife is helping me make sure I don’t overdo it.
I’d recommend three times a week for most beginners who are used to being generally active in their daily life. A very sedentary person might just start with 30 minutes a week to get things going (often people think it would be the other way around, but that’s how you overload and get hurt.)
Thirty minutes a day should be enough for most people as well, as long as you’re making sure you’re actually working out during that time. For example: thirty minutes of running is a lot. Thirty minutes of weightlifting isn’t as much (because of the amount of breaks you’ll need).
How do you do that as a writer?
Here’s the first half of my answer to that: if you have a standing desk, stand up. Not necessarily throughout the whole day, but occasionally. Stretch your legs; walk around. Also, if you have the opportunity, take the stairs. I’m still bad at taking the stairs, even when it’s just as few floors, but it all adds up. If you’re looking for more specific exercises, do some air squats and push-ups off the side of your desk.
But here’s the second half of my answer to that: if you have time to workout later, don’t work out at your desk. I’d recommend focusing on doing your work (but still remembering to take breaks and stretch in between), and then focus on doing a workout later. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like separating those two things makes both of them better.
For optimum results, for people who are just starting out:
– Go for a walk. Thirty minutes. When you’re sick of walking, start jogging. In the beginning you can jog ten minutes and walk twenty. If you’re really clever, you walk the first ten, jog for ten, and then walk again. Soon you’ll be running for half an hour. Doesn’t have to be fast, at all. Just get it done.
– Burpees. Whenever someone asks for ‘the’ exercise to do, this is what I got. It was invented as way to gauge the fitness level of an individual, without having them do multiple things, and, they, burn! There are several different versions of these floating around the web these days, but I do like to do them like this: (1) jumping up in the air, (2) jumping down and out in a plank position, (3) lying down on the ground, (4) pushing off the floor, (5) tucking your legs underneath your body, and (6) squatting back up to standing. If you ever plan on doing just one thing, do this.
– For my third thing I’m going to cheat and say push-ups and air squats. They require no equipment, exercise nearly your entire body, and almost everyone can do in some form regardless of fitness level (if you look closely, both of these are incorporated into my version of the burpee). People often seem to think that exercising needs to be difficult and that you need access to a whole warehouse full of equipment, but I promise if you 20-30 of these every day, you’ll see results.
Again, I want to emphasize that you don’t have to love training.
I sure don’t, yet I’ve somehow become a guy people go to when they ask for training advice. Being active helps everything, I promise. Four years ago, I didn’t do any type of activity beyond walking to the shops and I wish I started sooner. It sounds cliché, but it really does give you more energy to do other things when you phyiscally exhaust yourself occasionally. And during the lockdown/isolation period we’re in now it’s been especially valuable.
Especially when it comes to mental health.
When it comes to writing, to give a direct example, I find it makes me so much more focused. I spend less time writing now than I used to, but at the same time I write much more. Before, I had to sit down and spend ages getting in the zone, making sure all the circumstances were right so I could concentrate.
Now, I have the ability to just mash out words. It goes back to that thing I said about state of mind. When my bones and muscles have gotten the opportunity to exhaust themselves, my mind is at rest, and ready to go. I’d almost go as far as to say ‘eager’, in the sense that I’m looking forward to sitting down and doing something else. And it’s probably a confidence thing too.
If physical training has taught me anything, it’s that I’m much more capable than I thought.
I can do things I only ever dreamed of before, and that transfers to other things, writing included. A lot of us dread the blank page, that first draft, worrying about how it’s going to turn out. Now, more often than not, it’s a challenge I’m happy to take on. It’s like breaking personal records in the gym, proving myself that I can do better. There’s this famous quote that exists in various iterations (which I thought was attributed to Bruce Lee, but don’t quote me on that), and it goes something like: “Keep your mind strong and your body will follow.”
Well, I’d say that’s just as important if you turn it the other way around.