The Least You Can Do….

I had an epiphany about exercise recently.

Back in my forties, when I was running marathons and going to the gym every day, I was always challenging myself to run farther, lift more, do more reps, you name it.

It was, I suppose, a way to stay motivated. And my various physical pursuits were not simply to stay healthy–they were a kind of hobby. They were also social occasions for me. I didn’t drink alcohol at the time, so I guess running and going to the gym with groups of friends was the equivalent of going to a party for me. Now, I’m not suggesting I didn’t go to parties…I just enjoyed my social occasions that involved exercise more. And, if we’re being honest, no one enjoys a sober person at a party after ten PM anyway–haha!

And then I turned fifty and all hell broke loose. I rekindled the wine habit I’d acquired in my twenties and added sloth to the mix. All the while, however, I kept thinking that one day soon I’d “get back into shape.”

Ten years later, I realize that’s unlikely to happen. And, in fact, I no longer really care about “being in shape,” which is, if we’re being honest, as much about vanity as it is about health.

What I have been endeavouring to do, however, is the minimum exercise required to keep me out of the doctor’s office. And I’ve come to realize that I don’t need to challenge myself to run farther, lift more, etc., as I did in my forties…I just need to do the same thing every day.

Indeed, exercise simply needs to be a habit. It’s not like I challenge myself to shower quicker, fold laundry faster, or brush my teeth even more than I already do (which is kind of a lot because I’m obsessed with my electric toothbrush); they’re simply habits I do every day (okay, maybe not the laundry one because I actually never do that).

Anyway, I’ve done some research to learn…


  1. Get your heart rate up to 65% of its maximum for 40 minutes per day.
  2. Lift free weights 3 x week.

Sure, on top of this, most people do other stuff like dog walking, chores, etc., and fun stuff like bike riding and kayaking, but daily aerobic exercise and thrice-weekly strength training are the two things that should be as much of a habit as having a shower and brushing your teeth.

  1. Aerobic exercise x 40 minutes daily.

I started out thinking I’d accomplish this forty-minute component in a variety of ways: hiking up the ridge one day, riding my bike another, kayaking yet another, but, to be honest, whenever I tried to achieve forty minutes of these activities while maintaining a heart rate of 120 bpm, I’d suck the enjoyment out of an otherwise fun activity.

Then I realized every single day, James just gets up, sits down on his rowing machine, and just starts rowing for forty-five minutes while he listens to the CBC.

He actually enjoys his morning row so much he misses it when he can’t do it.

I decided to just follow his lead, so now I do a combination of two exercises to get my heart rate into the zone. First, I do twenty-five minutes on my Fitdesk:

What’s great about this piece of equipment is that I just set up my Kindle Fire and read while I’m pedalling. Okay, I also do my nails and floss my teeth.

For the other fifteen minutes, I jump on this little stair-stepper, turn my Kindle Fire slightly (so I can continue reading) and start stepping. I could do all my aerobic exercise on the Fitdesk, but it’s not a weight-bearing activity (which is better for weight loss).

In order to check that my heart rate is actually in the zone. I have this Fitbit James gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago:

2. Strength training x 3 times per week.

Research indicates that strength training a minimum of three times a week is necessary to maintain one’s health. Most people tend to complete three repetitions of each strength training exercise. However, research also indicates that while two repetitions are better than one repetition, there is little gain achieved from three repetitions over two. Thus, of course, I do the least I can do: only two repetitions of these exercises three times a week.

I have a set of twelve exercises–I do two sets of fifteen three times a week and currently use eight pound weights for each (with the exception of the tricep extension):

  1. The squat
  2. The lunge
  3. The standing calf raise
  4. The chest press
  5. The shoulder press
  6. The butterfly
  7. The dumbbell fly
  8. The bicep curl
  9. The tricep extension (with one ten-pound weight)
  10. The bent-over row
  11. The kick-back
  12. The crunch

For the crunch, to avoid wrecking my neck, I use one of these:

And occasionally, one of these:

But that second thing is bloody HARD, so I don’t use it very often.

So that’s it…the very least you can do!

I’ve been reading a book called The Morning Miracle which advocates a morning routine that includes exercise first thing in the morning, and I’m finding that it really is much better to simply get one’s daily exercise over and done with as early as possible in the day, so that’s what I’ve been doing.

I’m hoping soon, like James, I’ll be springing from my bed and onto my exercise bike without a moment’s thought. I’ll let you know how that goes!






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