When we are at the shore on vacation, I ride a big, fire-flaming-red bike. With ox-antler handles, broad seat, thick metal bars and a single gear, it is not the kind to race or travel cross-country. Rather, I sit back, relax and cruise; the rest of the world passes me by. The bike forces me to observe and meditate. It is not going anywhere fast.
Each morn, I strap on my helmet, swing on board, roll into the early breeze, and the rising sun. Four miles awaits that first cup of coffee; even on days of leisure, I remain dependent. The roads are quiet, the families with beach equipment in tow have yet to appear, the lifeguard stands empty, and the shopkeepers are just starting to organize their wares.
I take the same route past the same houses, same beaches and stores, and I get the same cup of coffee and pick up the same newspaper. Nonetheless, each morning is different. It is not the hot or cold, wind stiff or slack, sky blue or grey. Rather, the red cruiser makes me think and each day brings a different narration. Some days, I am all inside my head, worried or fixed on the matters of the world. Other mornings I am drawn out; I watch the gulls, feel the air, see changes or share the moment with others on morning journeys to find sustenance or themselves.
As the weather has been lousy for several days and today dawned perfect, clear and cool, with a brilliant warming sun reflecting on the ocean, this morning brought out everyone who was cooped up. Moms with strollers, gossipy clutches of walkers in mismatched suits and hardcore bikers in spandex. But, what amazed me was the proliferation of joggers.
I must have missed the memo, because it seemed like everyone was running. There were old folks plodding carefully, high school girls flying past, men in expensive matched Nike and those in ripped T’s, and dozens of middle aged souls, of both sexes and wearing every conceivable outfit, all out for a dawn fast march. We could have held a 5K and given trophies.
As I was cruising along, coffee now in hand, I wondered if these are the same patients in my office who seem to always answer, “no, I do not have the time to exercise.” Was this just holiday healing, trying to shove rebuilding into a too quick seven days? Did these same souls spend the other 51 weeks so absorbed in their working worlds that the only time they get short of breath is when they get pulled over for speeding or during an amorous Friday night? Or is this a subgroup of society that actually maintains their bodies and vacation is just another excuse to sweat?
Likely, the answer is “all of the above.” Some of those out on the early morning roads take care of their bodies everyday of their lives; those are the ones running or biking right by me on my cruiser. Others, the ones taking a break every block, probably had to dust off their “sneakers” before they could even try. And, the truth is, both are OK.
We know that regular exercise prevents, reduces or helps heal, essentially every disease. Not only do heart disease, degenerative arthritis, cancer and dementias happen less frequently to those “in shape,” but the likelihood of surviving major infections, trauma or needed surgery is greatly improved. In addition, we sleep better, when we exercise, which is great for the body and mind. Take care of our bodies and they will take care of us.
So, while I would hope everyone would exercise daily, I am encouraged by those that try only on vacation. In their gut, they understand and can feel the importance of exercise. Some of them may get just strong enough, get just enough in the habit that the routine will carry into their daily lives. They may rediscover the physical power and mental clarity that comes from the daily cleaning out our bodies and minds by movement, which raises our heart rates. What a cool thing to bring back from vacation.
Of course, my hat goes off to those for whom vacation is just another work out. Perhaps, they may try something different or just push themselves to be faster, stronger or more skilled. My only worry is what they think of me. I am certain there are those who went home to complain, over their fruit smoothie, “honey, I had a great run, but I saw this idiot out there who thought exercise is sitting back on a fat red bike with a cup of coffee in hand.” My only excuse is that it is decaf.