Now’s the Time to Sweat it Out

For years, my family has teased me — and complained about — my exercise addiction. Like most teasing, it’s based on truth, which makes it funny, unless you’re the one I’m nagging about the need to work out.

Years of subjecting my family to this obsession has taught me how irritating it can be. For example, I know that the last thing my husband wants to hear when he comes home after a lousy day is, “Did you use the elliptical this morning?” And, our kids, when confiding their troubles, suddenly need to nap when I suggest they visit the gym.

Yet, I can’t think of a better time than now to harp on the need for daily exercise.

I know I’m the worst kind of fitness fanatic. I’m a holy roller, a born-again who underwent a physical, psychological and spiritual transformation at age 18, when I jogged my first quarter mile around the local high school track. The thrill of that first endorphin rush gob smacked me, and I’ve relied on that same rush, every day, ever since.

Work-out junkie that I am, I’ve sacrificed a lumbar disc, traded in both of my worn-out hips for titanium replacements, and recently underwent surgery to fuse a couple of shifting, arthritic vertebrae. But I refuse to quit. I cycle. I swim. I yank elastic bands. I walk. And I insist on enlisting my husband and kids, who will begrudgingly agree to join me on a hike, half-heartedly believing my half-hearted promise that this time it won’t be a death march.

These are scary and confusing times. We stress over our jobs and financial stability. We fear for our loved ones. Worst of all, we fear each other. My town has stoked that fear by blockading the local high school track and playing fields with yellow police tape to prevent people from breathing each other’s air while running or playing soccer. Instead, we breathe each other’s air in the still-open liquor stores.

For the sake of our physical and mental health, we need to expand our view of what’s essential right now.

Social distancing is crucial to protecting health. Physical fitness is crucial too. It doesn’t require a gym, just a place to walk or run, alone or at least six feet apart from a friend.

Contrary to what my family thinks, I don’t see exercise as a cure-all, though it comes pretty darn close. Exercise grounds me. It energizes me. And it makes me nicer, especially these days. No matter how tired or busy I am, I push myself outside every day, rain or shine. With Motown pumping through my headphones, I hit the trails and draw deep breaths, swinging my arms, and stretching my legs. The steady climb of my heart rate, the warming of my muscles, and the sweat trickling down my back bring sweet, if temporary, escape from the crush of Covid-19. When I’m done, I float back home, soothed and as ready as I’ll ever be to face the day.

Public health writer/editor and author of the memoir, “Salt on a Robin’s Tail: An Unlikely Jewish Journey Through Childhood, Forgiveness, and Hope.”

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