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…]