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Ah exercise. Such a wonderful thing. Yet so hard to get excited about for so many of us.

I think it’s because of the link between exercise and body image in our current media culture – you should exercise to lose weight and look good, right? Uh, nope.

If you’re not someone who feels excited about pulling on lycra and a pair of sneakers, if you (like me) need to basically wear the equivalent of a corset on your upper torso to be able to do anything more energetic than a brisk walk, then certain forms of popular exercise are never going to work. Gyms – I totally understand the appeal, with all the shiny equipment and loud music and the promise of peak physical fitness. They are these glowing beacons of hope – if you just come in here a few times a week, you can become the Perfect Person.

As mum pointed out to me once, gyms in her youth were kind of specialised places that were only really used by people like boxers. The general public would never think to go to a gym. And now in almost every single neighbourhood in Sydney there is at least one gym, if not many more. It is definitely our current cultural obsession. I was in the city the other day and looked up to see a row of people running on treadmills through a large second storey window. Talking Heads’ “Road to nowhere” started going through my head. It just looks so futile and joyless.

Ha – while looking for a pic of treadmills, I found this one from Tocal of convicts on a treadmill grinding flour:

I doubt this was promoted as a method for achieving a perfect body in the 1820s – it was actually an alternative to the lash! But at least you got flour at the end of it.

When I’d go on weight loss jags, I joined gyms, got excited and motivated for about two weeks and then my attendance would gradually drop off and I just felt guilty for not going as often as I’d planned. I even had a personal trainer, who did motivate me but who dismissed my concerns when I was feeling sick from the exercise as just making excuses, and was kind of expensive on top of the gym fees.

So I stopped going to the gym. The gym breakup phone call is always so awkward – last time I stopped I thought I had an irrefutable excuse because I was without employment so didn’t have the money to pay the membership fees. The woman’s response? “But what will you do with all your free time now that you don’t have a job? That would be the perfect time to go to the gym.” Uh, no lady, it would be the perfect time to find a job. Also, unless you’re offering free use of the gym, I can’t actually pay you so I don’t think you’ll welcome me in. Ugh.

Also gyms smell. They just have that stale sweat smell that is embedded into everything. As well as grunts and macho yells from the weights area. And lithe young girls with high ponytails and crop tops who look at you disdainfully as you, twice the size of them, start a light jog on the treadmill beside them. Maybe they think fat is catching or something.

Anyway. Gyms. Not for everyone.

I always liked the idea of boxing though. I liked that release of violent tension. I did a few boxing lessons with that personal trainer and it was fun. I was good at kicking, not so good at punching (I do have very strong legs). I tried boxing with Lachy once when we had the foolish idea that he might be able to train me and it was a bit embarrassing – you probably shouldn’t do it with anyone you actually know. But yeah. Although I like the idea of boxing, it isn’t really me.

Basically what it comes down to with exercise is finding something that is you. Whether that’s doing Jillian DVDs with friends, or going for walks, or jogging around the neighbourhood, or dancing, or stretching or…you don’t have to wear lycra. It’s not compulsory. Though it can be comfortable.

As I’ve written about before, my current things are bellydance and yoga and, as a side benefit, massaging (it is quite a good workout!). They’re not high impact activities by any means. But I’m moving, getting my heart rate up a little, and having a great time doing it.

I’ll just post this photo from the winter hafla cos I love the costumes and how these women look

That’s the not-so-secret secret – find something that you enjoy because then it won’t be a chore, it won’t be something you dread, it won’t be something you have to do to achieve a perfect body. You’ll be exercising because it feels good to move. Your body was made to move – and it rewards you for moving by a) getting stronger so you can do more stuff and b) releasing happy hormones so you feel good. It’s like a big gold star.