Pumping Irony

One of the big ideas behind doing a fitness section of the blog was to gym-shame myself. Shout about going to the gym loud enough and often enough and I actually have to go to the gym. And I like going to the gym, so it shouldn’t be that hard.

I haven’t been to the gym this week.

This is where I say how terrible I feel that I haven’t made it. And I do feel a little bad. But the truth of the matter is I’ve been unavoidably busy and sometimes things like the gym fall by the wayside so I can do things like go to work and earn the money I use to pay for the gym. Working the shifts I do often means that entire days are lost to either the work itself or fatigue. Protip, if you want to keep your bodyclock, don’t go into subtitling.

Time was I’d be incredibly stressed about this. I’d be cursing my lack of time or energy or willpower. I’d be immediately thinking about losing every improvement I’d made since starting at the gym. I’d hate myself a bit. (a lot.) Before starting at the gym I wasn’t in great shape, but I wasn’t in terrible shape either. No one would have looked at me and worried about my health, The biggest health benefit I get from going to the gym is stress and anxiety relief.

I’ve never had major problems with stress or anxiety, in the grand scheme of mental health issues I barely register, what has affected me has knocked me off kilter and made me miserable for longer than I was willing to tolerate, while still leaving me in the position to do something about it. So I started running, and that helped, and the gym, and that helped even more. Call it endorphins or confidence or whatever you want. It worked for me.

So when I miss the gym, it’d be easy for me to go into stress mode. I could stress about the potential to be stressed, which is comedic and ridiculous. Instead I’m accepting it. All the gym memes about no excuses are bouncing off me like hard rain, unpleasantly expected but ultimately harmless. I don’t lack for commitment, nor am I lazy. I’m not a terrible person and I won’t get fat overnight – rather that will be a slow process beginning in my 40s, irreversibly.

I suppose the point of this post is just to address something I think every fitness enthusiast feels at some point, the pressure to work out. It can become a monolith hanging over your day and ends up sucking the fun out of something you otherwise enjoy. A stress reliever becomes a stress creator, something that made you feel good about yourself is making you feel terrible about yourself. We can’t let it work like that.

They say the gym and fitness is about commitment, and that means not giving up just because you stumble a few times. Failure isn’t falling down, it’s not getting up again. The “motivational” gym memes will mock you for phrases like “I’ll go tomorrow”, but you know what? Maybe you’re busy today. But you’ll go tomorrow. I believe in you.

Health Economy, or Why You Don’t Need To Earn A Living

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I like my gym. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, it’s well equipped, it isn’t too far from my house and there are two novelty oversized dogs that wander around behind reception from time to time. Like most gyms, though, it doesn’t half like a motivational quote. Above the mirror at the freeweight section a banner reads: “Some people want it to happen. Some people wish it would happen. Others MAKE it happen.” It’s a cute trick, motivating you while stroking your ego. You’re one of the ELITE, right? You’re MAKING it happen. The sentence structure alone tells you you’re at least in the top 33.3% of the population, and let’s face it, that percentile is probably lower because you’re just that special, you muscular workhorse, you man of iron. In fairness, determination and the will to do something is a huge part of exercise or going to the gym. Some days you just don’t feel like it, get a few of those in a row and suddenly you haven’t been for a week. Then two. And the more you miss, the harder it is to go back. But there’s a secret ingredient to going to the gym and a healthy life that the gyms don’t put on their banners or turn into a meme for their Facebook page.

Money.

This isn’t me complaining about the price of gym membership – I pay £24 a month for my gym and I think it’s a bargain for what I get – specialist knowledge on hand and well maintained facilities. I could pay less for a no-contract gm like Pure or the Gym Group, but I’ve tried that before and much prefer the culture and atmosphere of my local, independently owned gym. My membership there is a luxury, one I can afford because I have a good job. I buy protein powder to help me along and that too is a luxury. I’ll never complain about the price of any of these things. I think they’re worth it, and no one is forcing me to pay for them. I could go a run or walk more every day and maintain a reasonable level of physical activity for a fraction of the cost. And I do run (though if you want to do it often and at any distance then investing in a good pair of running shoes is advised).

No, this is about the price of health, from what you eat to how much sleep you get and everything in between. It’s no shock to anyone that unhealthy foods are generally much cheaper than healthy options. I could get maybe a few days worth of perishable fruit and veg for the price of several frozen dinners, microwave meals and snack food. In terms of quantity over quality, it’s just not economical to be healthy. This immediately prices huge chunks of the population out of healthier lifestyle choices. This will be down to various factors, like the economic benefits of mass production to businesses, allowing them to price their frozen food more cheaply than the more complex fruit and veg growing industries. Or TL; DR, capitalism. It also has to do with convenience – the most healthy meals are generally prepared fresh, with fresh ingredients. This takes time, which people are pretty short of these days. Maybe they’re looking after children or caring for a partner or parents. Maybe they’re working overtime or two jobs because the cost of living keeps going up and wages aren’t following. So they buy the thing that helps them save time, the quick hit foods, in the oven, in the microwave, whatever. Fuel for the fire. The problem is, a lot of this kind of food doesn’t provide the consistent energy release that can help stave off fatigue and hunger, so you’re tired – so you don’t cook – and you want to eat more. And so it goes. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just circumstance. I’ve done it plenty myself.

And that’s just physical health. Mental health is taking huge hits right now too. Work and financial problems are the top two causes of stress in the UK, according Mind, the mental health charity.  People are working too much, as I said, two jobs or trying to make ends meet on wages that just haven’t gone up fast enough. This, and several other reasons, are why I support a Guaranteed Minimum Income.

The basic idea is that everyone deserves and requires a certain level of income, no matter what, job or no job. Pilot schemes have been carried out, and the results have been more than encouraging. In Dauphin, Manitoba in Canada in the 1970s they tried a GMI scheme and they found that the only demographic who wound up working noticably less were new mothers, and I don’t think anyone in their right mind would see anything wrong with that. Teenagers also worked less, because they didn’t need to contribute to household expenses as they were now helped along by the GMI. This led to grades in school going up and more teens graduated – they could study more and focus on school work more as they didn’t need a job. Hospital admissions decreased during the programme, mental health consultations decreased and rates of domestic abuse went down too. When people didn’t have to stress about money, their lives got better on almost every metric. Mental and physical health got better.

I’m not advocating we had out millions to everyone. I’m saying we’re obligated to make sure people in our society have the bare minimum for a good life. Not benefits, not tax credits, not the Government’s sorry attempt at a “living wage” by rebranding the minimum wage to suit their figures, but a bare minimum income. Because you know what? You shouldn’t have to “earn” a living. A living is what you get just for being here. It’s what you get because you’re here and we’re decent and there are certain things people should just have for being people. Shelter, clothing, education, health, food. There’s no religion in the world other than capitalism that will tell you that we shouldn’t just give this stuff to everyone and work out the rest later. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have to work – if you want that laptop or that car or the new jacket or new trainers or whatever other luxury you have your eye on (like gym membership or protein powders), go earn it. Earn the extras. Food isn’t an extra. Somewhere warm to sleep isn’t an extra. A decent education and medicine when you’re sick aren’t extras. They’re an actual living, and not something you should be expected to “earn”.

We’re all we’ve got. And if we don’t take care of each other we won’t even have that.

Harder, better, faster, unconscious on the floor please don’t make me run today

It’s Friday, which under my new bloggiing system means that I’ll be talking about my attempts to get fit, lifestyle stuff and general current affairs (read: social justice rants). Basically anything that isn’t sci-fi or writing will go in here. I’m hoping that by broadcasting my exercise stuff that I’ll be more motivated to actually exercise. Apparently shame is a strong motivator for me. Yes, I was raised Catholic, why do you ask?

So I was never sporty. At all. I have bad eyesight, particularly in my left eye, and had my eyes operated on as a child, so  my hand-eye co-ordination is utterly terrible. I can’t imagine how disappointing it must have been for my Celtic fan, referee dad to find out his sons were about as interested in playing football as he was in the latest issue of Justice League.

Then about a year and a half ago at a friend’s wedding I was convinced to sign up to do Tough Mudder, an 11 mile obstacle course race designed to make you question your desire to go on living. Targets, my friend said. Set yourself a target, work towards it, you can do it.

So I ran, I worked out, I ate better. None of them to the proper degree, but I did do it. And I lost weight and I got fitter and come the end of June last year I dragged myself across the Tough Mudder finish line. And it felt amazing. I’m nowhere near the level of fitness or strength that I’d like to be, but gearing up for Tough Mudder showed me that I had it in me. I went from barely being able to run a half mile without having to stop to running 5 miles without a break. Working out also had a tremendous impact on my mental health, I have a horrible tendency to overthink things, work myself into an anxious mess. That all tailed off to a very manageable level once I started running and going to the gym. Exercise, hard as it would be to believe to a 15 year old me, has helped me immeasurably.

Now in the past few months my cardio fitness has tailed off. My routine at the gym is three days a week, and trying to find the time for that fourth day to go a run is pretty difficult, especially given the kind of hours my job has me pull. I’m writing this today bone tired. I still make the gym three times a week (usually), so I haven’t lost a ton of fitness, but I wouldn’t want to be running five miles any time soon.

That being said, I think the time has come to switch up the routine a bit, work in more running and get my fitness up (and waist size down). I’m getting married next year, so I have a goal. Every week now I’ll try and update here with progress, new workout, stats etc. Very boring stuff if you’re not into this kind of thing so I won’t be offended if you skip it.

I’ll try not to be a fitness evangelist here. There are few things more annoying than the holier-than-thou pontificating about exercise and eating habits. There are so many reasons as to why people do and eat and work and live the way they do, and I don’t tend to care about any of them as long as it makes them happy and they aren’t hurting anyone. The exercise stuff works for me, doesn’t mean I have to force it to work on everyone else. All I can do is speak to the positive impact it’s had on me, but if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

Any exercise/fitness enthusiasts reading this? if so, can you help me out with filling breakfast suggestions that aren’t bread-related? It’s porridge seasons now, so that will help, but I’m still eating way too much bread at the moment and if I can even cut it out at breakfast that would help a lot.

Thanks for reading, if you stuck with it this long. Like I said before, this will be a bit of a niche entry I think (the fitness parts at least) so I really appreciate any clicks. See you Monday.