Let’s hear (read) it for mindless, multi-tasked exercise

One of those funny things about exercise (at least for me), is how, no matter how much time I might have whiled away in stuff I can’t remember, I’m usually pretty sure that my falling back on my to-do list is correlated to the few minutes I spared for meaningful exercise.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love exercise, at least in theory. I’d love to do it if I had the time. There was even a time (long, long ago) when I enjoyed the sense of wellbeing that stretches and weights brought me, that feeling of a body that works. I did mention that it was long ago, right? Well…

Of course not all exercise is exercise. Walking, for me, is not exercise. It is pleasure. I can do it for hours, and never think of the to-do list lengthening with every minute I spend away from it. But walking is not all the body allegedly needs. There is flexibility, strength-training, balance, jog-on-spot, and every minute on any of these takes a toll on my ability to handle my to-do list. Heck, I never said I was rational, did I?

For some years now, I’ve been trying to persuade myself that ten minutes of daily flexibility is surely worth it. Add another ten for jog-on-spot. And another for isometric hand grips. And so on. And in my mind there is a picture of a mountain that grows taller and taller by piling mustard seeds, and these are large and unpleasant mustard seeds.

I’ve tried to solve my problem through mindfulness, experiencing my body with every small exercise action, something that is alleged to be very pleasurable. I’m sure it works for some persons, but all I can remain mindful about as I exercise is how my time is getting frittered away as I jog without going anywhere or jump like a monkey for no rhyme or reason except feeling heroically self-torturing.

So I’ve finally switched to something that seems to fit into my resentful-of-time mode of exercise. I now use a mindless, multitasked mode. Here’s what I do. I place a small plastic stool on my table to convert it to a standing desk, start off some video I want to see (introduction to genetics, for example, or a talk on some book I’m considering buying, or a youtube video, whatever), and stand in front of it. Then, without bothering to notice what I am doing, without exercise in mind, I jog and jump and stretch before the video. Converting a normal desk to a standing desk takes barely a few seconds; it’s a lightweight stool, doesn’t take much space or need any effort to place under the laptop. Entertainment videos work very well for such instant addition of an exercise component, but even instructional videos aren’t too bad if they are not very intense. After some time, when the video comes to an end, I realize I’ve bunged in fifteen minutes of activity when earlier I would have agonized over just three minutes of it. And my to-do list has two ticks on it instead of one 🙂

Okay, so this goes against the grain of much advice given, but I don’t use it for elaborate yoga postures that need careful, well, posing and positioning. I do exercises that basically need movement of some sort. Paradoxically, the busier the day, the more opportunities I have for such sneaked-in exercise.

Of course, any self-improvement attempts must be justified by mapping it to the way our ancestors lived. We should not eat burgers and fries because ancient hunter-gatherers did not. We should eat raw food, because they did. Or meat. Or not eat meat. We should not be stressed because apparently they never were (and apparently no other species gets stressed). There is never any pucca proof, but statements like these are much the norm to justify choices.

I must admit this convention had me stymied. I can’t justify my approach using ancestors because I’ve not seen any cave painting with laptops placed on stools on tables to create standing desks. Nor did the revered ancestors multitask videos with jog-on-spot, or pump hand-weights using stick-thin arms while watching Mr. Bean clips on youtube. They didn’t even have youtube…imagine the horror of it all!

But yesterday, as I was puffing along (the aerobic exercise variety, not the nicotine variety) and watching an introduction to Hadoop, it struck me that there was an excellent justification based on my understanding of our hunter-gatherer foremothers and forefathers. See, they didn’t exercise as such, did they? They remained fit (so we think) because of what they did in their line of work. When a tiger was chasing them, they weren’t watching the belly rise up and down as they raced for their lives. Nor did they watch their breath when rushing with a spear in hand after a deer to be speared. And they didn’t jog on spot after or before “work” to stay fit. Physical activity was woven into the tasks they needed to do all day long.

Weight-lifting in front of a standing desk playing a video on GIMP is quite in the same spirit, right? I am open to proof that our ancestors would have chosen otherwise if they had Internet and laptops but in the absence of such proof, I shall stand by my mindless multitasking exercise approach. Or rather, I shall jog by it in front of that standing desk…

[Disclaimer: Anyone choosing to remain mindless does so at his or her own risk. It may be easier for those who never mind things anyway…]

Using my procrastination mood to create a book trailer video

July beginning. There were heaps of things I should have been doing, but they were all large projects, and I just couldn’t get the energy to plan and get started on them, so I kept nibbling at smaller to-dos. But though I did nibble a few millimetres off my to-do list that spans several pages, I felt dissatisfied. What I wanted was to do something that I found fun, that made me feel productive(even if I wasn’t being productive in a productive way, if you know what I mean). I wanted to make something.

So, though creating this video was nowhere in my active and overflowing to-do list, and merely a small item at the bottom of my huge wishlist, I spent a few days creating it:

(you can see the video directly on youtube, too, at: this link.

Ah well, the sketches were fun to make, and I did learn some stuff about Powerpoint transitions, though I can’t think of anyplace else where I will use that knowledge 🙂

And perhaps this post is another example of productive procrastination 🙂

Editing to add: The book, Aligning Ferret: How an Organization Meets Extraordinary Challenges, (for which I created the book trailer above) is available as a Kindle eBook at Amazon.com and also at Amazon.in.

Learning vector graphics using Inkscape

In the past few years, because of the websites and videos I was creating, I often needed to create graphics or edit sound or video files, and so I’d look around for some free but reliable software and pick up just enough skill to get my work done. For graphics, after some looking around, I mainly used GIMP and some amount of Microsoft Powerpoint, and I used these always used these packages with some specific end-product in mind.

Recently, though, I decided to try out a vector graphics package just for the fun of it, and I chose Inkscape, a free vector graphics editor. Inkscape is open source (Wikipedia page in Inkscape here) and the software can be downloaded at their site here.

One reason I wanted to try out Inkscape is that it is a vector drawing software, which means that the graphic remains okay on resizing. And Inkscape, while not as well known (and probably not as full of features) as professional packages like the Adobe products, does allow relevant imports and exports, and I thought it would be a good way to get an idea about vector illustrations without making major investment just to satisfy that curiosity.

The fun part of drawing using computers nowadays is that graphics packages are full of “tools” that draw for you. Want a rectangle or square? Or a circle or oval? Or even a star with spokes? Pick the tool and just drag out the figure you want. Not quite the way you want it? No problem; just edit it 🙂

It doesn’t end there. Even for “drawing” of figures, one doesn’t really need good control over the “pen”. All you need is a reasonable degree of control, and you can then refine the lines using edit tools. There’s some solid mathematics behind the tool used for such drawing, but fortunately one need not know the math to use the tool. If you are the grateful sort, just send some mental thanks to Pierre Bezier, the man behind Bezier curves, included as a tool in graphic packages. (Wikipedia page on Bezier curves) The tool is a boon for drawing (and “tracing” an existing picture).

Graphics packages make the life of a user even simpler by providing other tools and filters. For example, tools to add gradients to figures. Tools to perform operations like “subtracting” one figure from another, or finding an “intersection”, and all such stuff that makes life interesting. Filters to add effects like “oilify” or “fuzzy borders” or “canvas print” and all that, just at the click of an option.

Here are some of my initial attempts at using Inkscape. One is a picture I found on a napkin and “traced” using Bezier curves; one is a “button”, and one is a sticky note with part of it turned. These took very little time and were far easier than I thought they would be. I’m not sure how much I want to continue learning Inkscape–any skill takes time and energy–but at least I now have some idea of the range of things possible, and next time I want to make a graphic, I’ll consider Inkscape first (instead of GIMP, which I was using earlier).

buddha traceyellow buttonfolded sticky

About this blog


My main blog for some years has been a rather solemn one where I shared stuff about dementia and caregiving and somber thoughts on identity and ageing; this was an integral part of my life for many years and my identity and day revolved around it. I also had another blog for sharing lighter stuff, but I rarely posted on it and it degenerated into a rarely updated blog where I would share my occasional writing successes.

For some months now, I’ve wanted to blog on topics other than dementia/ care, but I didn’t want to add these entries to my existing blog (which has over 200 posts/ pages) as many visitors reach the blog looking for dementia-specific information and I didn’t want to dilute the focus. I then started a blog hosted on blogger and I was uncomfortable with that platform and so I rarely posted in it (almost forgot it existed, and have finally deleted it). So, finally, I’ve decided to use my site for blogging. I’m not sure what sort of entries I’ll end up posting here, but that’s part of the fun–seeing the shape of things emerge.

I’ll just let things evolve… 🙂