I forgot that a workout is a process – not a checkbox to be marked off.

In the current zeitgeist of workout literature, there seems to be a growing consensus that the question of “how long do I have to work out to get a benefit?” is worth studying intimately. Do you get all the workout benefits you’re going to get if you work out for twenty minutes? Ten minutes? One minute?

Here’s my take: I’m not sure that “how long should I be working out?” is the right question to ask.

Hey, doc, how long should  I work out? Wait a second...I'm not sure that's the right question to be asking. (Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Hey, doc, how long should I work out? Wait a second…I’m not sure that’s the right question to be asking. (Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Recently I read a book that advocated two 10-minute workouts a week in addition to a Paleo-seeming diet plan as the answer to all of our culture’s fitness and weight woes.  At the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual Health & Fitness Summit this past April in Atlanta, Barry Braun, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,  mentioned a study that suggested one minute of exercise (really intense exercise, that is) was enough to derive a physical benefit.

And then, Dr. Braun smiled and said to the hypothetical researchers who are sending this message out into the world, “But why do you want to take away the other 59 minutes of the best hour of my day?”

And I nodded my head in my seat and said to anyone within hearing distance: “Yup.”

When I think about working out in a utilitarian way – “hey, workout, what have you done for me lately?” – I never, ever get the same kind of psychological and energetic “pop” that I get from going out there to just sweat and have fun. I didn’t choose running as my primary activity because it “burns calories.” I did it because I like to run. If I liked to hike, I would hike, If I liked to swim, I would swim. (I do swim, but it’s not the same love affair that I have with the roads.)

When I see exercise reduced to a “you can burn X calories in X minutes” message in the media, I really wonder if we’re asking the right questions and presenting the answers in the right way. During one of my runs recently, I realized I needed to hire a very specific type of person for a need I have in my company – and I just hadn’t even considered that possibility until I was deeply into my workout. The thought just popped up. And it was right there – an answer to a conundrum.

Working out clears my head, unclogs my brain, takes away my worries, and makes me feel physically strong – an underpinning of the emotional strength that I feel like I’ve been building every day since the day almost five and a half years ago when I realized I had to lose weight, and I wasn’t going to give up until I got myself figured out. Working out was a part of that process, and it’s a part of the process today that keeps that excess weight off. But it’s more than that.

It’s not a “to-do” checkbox on a list. It’s an elixir for healthy living.

Yesterday: A REST DAY. And a long travel day to boot. Today, I’ll get my workout on – not to check a box, but because it does the best stuff possible for my head.

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