I have never been one to ‘do’ exercise, though acknowledging it is a major part of any health programme.
As a child I climbed imaginary mountains, up and down the hollows; I teetered along any flat high wall I came across, struggled to get a foothold on tree branches; I ran after balls and skipped over ropes; basically I lived to ‘play out’.
At school we had a twice-a-week gym lesson. I duly fell on the top of my head trying to jump over the vaulting horse. It was at that moment I learned what it was like to see stars. I won no applause and very little sympathy from the teacher.
Games at school were worse than gym. I never got chosen for the team as I had trouble being interested enough to learn the rules. Once I was chosen as my best friend was acting team leader. Standards took such a sudden downturn that I was sacked halfway through the session.
Back in the day I vigorously ice skated in the huge ice rink in Manchester. Flying round and round like an avenging angel I was happy for hours.
In every dance hall in our area I practised the waltz, the quickstep and the tango like a ladylike bull in a china shop, progressing to The Ritz, Belle Vue and even The Tower Ballroom in Blackpool. I got to all of these venues by train, bus, tram or even walking.
I didn’t consider any of this as ‘exercise’. It was love of dance in any form, it was getting boys to ask you to dance with them; it was dressing up and having a laugh.
At eighteen, just about to get engaged, the idea of owning a bicycle crossed my mind. I was working, I saved, I got one. From then on buses to work were history. My simple, cheapest on the market, steed took me to work and back and anywhere within reason, hail, rain or snow. Exercise never crossed my mind.
I did am dram all over our region. Acting mainly but, come on, all those musicals with me in the dance chorus! When I tried to sing at the same time (singing which I couldn’t do even standing still) the heart beat must have increased in a very healthy process.
At sixteen I had joined the Labour League of Youth and went on my first and last hike. We did ten miles in the wilds of Cumbria and five of us ended up lost in rough rocky land by the side of a stream. Mountains (well, hills) towered around us. I didn’t do the hike for the exercise – my club organized it so I went. Of course we all panicked and a couple of us cried. A comrade took me under his wing, which almost, but not quite, made it all worthwhile..
On that one and only hike I think I discovered the difference, for me, between pleasure and getting involved in anything which was even an offshoot of exercise. However, it can be hard to detect in advance whether you’re embarking on disaster in the pursuit of pleasure.
I love horses, and from time to time I went horse riding. A good thing about this was that the horse did the exercise. I was inclined to let the horse decide where it wanted to take me – watching it eat privet hedges was quite soporific as I sat peering down from above.
My important relationship with horses came when I was twenty-one and went to spend time with my new husband in army quarters in Germany. My sapper was riding super horses in the riding school which was set up for the troops and their families. It was in the middle of the Camp near the N.A.A.F.I. I went along one day. The teacher was an ex-Olympic medal winner. She was called Renata, a strict, Teutonic personage and a perfectionist.
Renata decided that this complete beginner should not only hold the reins in a specially correct manner and maintain a straight posture at all times, but should persuade the massive horse to trot. This entailed the rider sitting in the saddle and standing in the stirrups in a ‘light trot’ in tune with the rhythm of the horse. I went back to married quarters in muscular agony.
Surprisingly I went back a week or so later and mounted one of the most majestic, but stubborn of the ten in the stables. It was better than the first time until an army vehicle outside the ménage back-fired with a great boom. This refined thoroughbred horse reared and threw me head-first into the sawdust, one of my feet still in the stirrup.
That was when I finally decided, at that young age, that I loved horses but NOT sitting on top of one.
And so, in all these ways, my relationship with exercise, as such, has been decided.
Of course everyone knows that exercise is necessary for us to sustain life! The media, doctors, teachers, many parents, totally encourage exercise. Not my kind of exercise which was merely an extension of my instincts and desire for enjoyment.
There’s The Gym, brisk walks, Pilates, Yoga, Zumba, others which I’ve never heard of – and jogging.
Yes, jogging. That’s what started me on this trip down memory lane. I was reading about something called Plogging. This is a Swedish idea, possibly in response to the revelations about the pollution of the oceans with plastic. In fact here in the UK there is a group called Plastic Patrol dedicated to ridding our inland waterways of plastic. Plogging means that a jogger carries a bag and bends down to pick up any junk he or she sees.
Exercise, once again, hits the headlines. Perhaps all my own aversion to it needs reconsidering. I concede – just as long as I don’t have to do any.
Dorrie Jane Bridge
Do you agree with Dorrie? Is exercise fit for nothing? Tell us your thoughts below – Ed