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There's no such thing as a good sweat

I come from a long line of slugs. The day I joined a fitness club was the last time I set foot in the place

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

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It's been more than a month since my annual fitness test (which I failed) and I have just returned from my 12th visit to the Y, unable to shake my deep sense of not belonging.

Asked for an example of an oxymoron, "a good sweat" would be my immediate reply. I hit the wall while I'm still tying up my running shoes.

As for those studies claiming a link between exercise and health, how do we know they're not part of a huge plot driven by the greed of international sportswear conglomerates?

I blame my attitude on my childhood. I come from a long line of well-adjusted slugs and grew up in a family where no one was ever in danger of sustaining a sports-related injury.

Being picked last for a team was a relief — it was reassuring to know that my teammates' expectations matched my talents. As I once tried to explain to my high-school rugby coach, why would I dive at a player's feet, roll o

in the mud and endure the indignities of the scrum when I had no desire to have the ball in the first place? As far as I was concerned, it was reasonable and generous on my part to let the owner hang on to it.

It's not that I'm a total stranger to exercise. I married someone who boasts a resting heart rate of 55. If mine ever fell that low, I would assume my demise was imminent.

After years of cajoling and guilt-mongering, Kathy persuaded me to join a fitness club. It was a deal even I couldn't resist — an 18-month membership for the price of 12. Emerging from the club somewhat poorer, but with my membership card in hand, I felt strangely elated and energized. After all, wasn't I now a card-carrying jock?

And that was the last time I set foot in the place.

Years passed and my sense of well-being remained intact, until I came to the realization that as a man of advancing years with a large family and even larger debts, I needed to pay another visit to the doctor for a thorough physical.

The results were not encouraging — my body fat and cholesterol levels were on the rise, while my fitness level and life expectancy were heading in the opposite direction.

I pleaded my case, reminding the doctor that I had, in fact, made gains in one department — nothing less than a doubling of my pushup count since my previous fitness test. He smiled kindly, but pointed out that an increment from one to two left a vast expanse for improvement.

I soon discovered that all the advances of medical science had failed me. I listened with dismay as he broke the news. There was no magic pill. I needed to face the error of my ways. Nothing could save me from the treadmill and elliptical trainer.

Acknowledging that self-discipline has never been one of my life goals, I signed up at the YMCA for a personal trainer to set me on the path to good health.

I was specific — no muscular Adonis whose physique would make me feel terminally inadequate. I wanted a motherly type, a sensitive soul who would understand my passion for lethargy and would not be upset if I arrived late because of the irresistible call of the chip truck. Jacquie, I was assured, would take good care of me.

Our first meeting took place in her office, where all I had to do was sit. I was in my element. This was, however, only a preparatory interview.

It was scheduled to last an hour. Since many of the questions related to my past involvement in physical activity (none), my preferred type of exercise (also none) and my goals (only one — to outlive the doctor who had forced me off the couch), we were done in 15 minutes.

Jacquie obviously likes a challenge. She understands that, for me, the sight of rows of treadmills, elliptical trainers and step machines rivals the image of Dante's Inferno.

At this point in my rehabilitation, she expects as much from me as the teammates of my youth, but I can sense the winds of change. Just the other week she gently suggested that I up the speed on the treadmill to a level where signs of movement would be detectable.

Faint hope has been replaced with guarded optimism. I would never have believed this to be possible, but I have managed to retain my belief that life is worthwhile, in spite of the fact I have not visited a chip truck for weeks (honest, doctor, I haven't).

But enough of the talk — it's back to the exercise room, where Jacquie will introduce me to yet another way to satisfy my unconscious need for pain and suffering. To my amazement, I'm almost looking forward to returning.

Peter Marshall lives in Barrie, Ont.

Illustration by Peter Mitchell.

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