Reading and Exercise – A Weighty Subject

October 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 10 Comments

It’s the ultimate taboo:  talking about body fat.  Am I fat?  Are you fat?  Is she fat?  Have we been gaining weight lately?  Well, I’m going to go there.  My name is Jessica, I read a lot, and in the last two years I’ve gained back 17 of the 28 pounds I had successfully kept off for two years.  (125 to 142).  Was “a book a day” worth it?  I sat on my butt too much.  There, I’ve said it.

This came up because a couple of cheerleaders exhibited surprise that I read on the treadmill during the read-a-thon.  It never occurred to me that this was unusual.  I’m going to tell you more.

I have a treadmill I bought “new out of the box” at an athletic consignment store.  I paid $300 (birthday money).  It folds up when not in use.  I keep it smack in the middle of the family room, right under the ceiling fan.  There is no way on earth I could bear using it without something to read!  Usually I hold a book in one hand and switch back and forth.  The Recognitions was too big, so I rested it on the ledge that’s built into the machine.

I also have a mini stair stepper that I bought new for $50.  I wanted to use it at work, as I had seen another employee do, but that was nixed by our safety officer, so it went home.  This device is literally just pedals connected to a little computer a little larger than a digital wristwatch.  I don’t have the batteries in it, though – I just step up and down, and my hands are free to hold my book.

I’ve also just joined a gym – Anytime Fitness.  I like the elliptical trainer.  It’s a little trickier to read on the elliptical because you’re rocking side to side more.  I will also read while doing my stretches; I find I do a longer, deeper stretch when I have something to distract me.  Let’s face it – exercise is almost terminally boring!  Unless you’re my husband, who has been a jock since age 4.

Here’s what happened to me.  I worked out for 18 months, burned off 25 pounds, and kept it off for two years.  I moved and quit my gym membership, but was biking to work.  I moved again, shortly after deciding to try to read a book a day.  (I finished at 409 for the year).  Then this year I decided to try for 500.  Notice that during this time I was still not going to the gym; then I also quit riding my bike because it cut into my reading time too much.  I used my treadmill maybe once a month and the stairstepper maybe 15 minutes at a time once every several weeks.  I’ve been walking 3 miles per day – trying for 1000 miles this year – but it’s clearly not enough to keep my weight down.  Evidently reading makes a person fat.

Carrying extra weight is not something I do well.  Fat hurts.  It makes me tired and breathless, and I’m not even big.  I’m technically two pounds over the healthy BMI for my height, but for me that feels like ten pounds too much.  If I had it to do over again, and you had told me what I would sacrifice in terms of my fitness level, I would not have tried to read all those books.  No question.

Cosmetic details aren’t terribly interesting to me.  I think most people are good looking.  I find fashion beyond uninteresting, I refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes, and I won’t spend more than five minutes fussing with my hair unless it’s, well, my wedding day.  I think there’s a common thread among readers and intellectuals that separates “smart” from “attractive” and would rather be clearly identifiable as “smart.”  (I’m in Mensa and the Society for Creative Anachronism, and frankly, both groups appear to have a preponderance of morbidly obese members).  To be concerned with things like one’s weight is a little trivial and shallow, perhaps.  “I have more important things to think about, thank you very much.”  When it comes down to it, though, it’s really a health issue, isn’t it?

[Whew, heavy topic today].

So, yeah!  Treadmills!  How ’bout them treadmills!


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  1. If I could read while on the treadmill, I would probably not loathe going to the gym so much. But I’m just not one of those people who can run and read – I tried, and I almost fell flat on my face.

    Your post is actually really timely, as the husband and I just went back to the gym tonight after a multi-month hiatus. The only thing keeping me optimistic is that this time I’ve acquired an ipod touch and can watch any show of my choosing while on the treadmill. I think if I limit my tv watching to that 40 minute window every other day, it will make the treadmill more palatable… at least, that’s the hope!

    • Run? Oh, honey, I don’t *run* on the treadmill. I just walk at a leisurely pace. Otherwise I might get sweaty!

  2. I have been making more of an effort to exercise, and yes, it does cut into reading time. But, then, life in general does.

    I’m not trying to look “buff” but I’m trying to fight aging! I don’t want to be bent and hunched over when I’m older. If not for exercising now, I’d probably be able to read even less when I’m older because I’d be too busy going to various doctors to try to get better.

    Everything in life is a trade-off, I guess 🙂 ! Good for you on your exercise efforts. For me, getting started each day is the hard part, but once I get moving, I’m OK.

  3. I hear you! I bought an elliptical and hardly used it because, well, I’d rather read. So now I can blame reading and lack of sleep (staying up late reading 🙂 for my weight gain!

    I can’t read on an elliptical, but I am going to try some audio books to see if it’d help distract me. I don’t usually listen to audio books (I fall asleep or get distracted with whatever else I was doing.) so we’ll see if elliptical will distract audio books, or vice versa!

  4. I also read on the treadmill, stepper and elliptical. I must say I get some odd looks from time to time, and I also have to be careful not to read anything too funny… I started laughing so hard I almost fell off a treadmill once. Other than that, great way to multitask. I started doing it in university so that I could study and exercise at the same time 🙂

    • I used to do that, and one night I was reading my history text when the gym closed. Suddenly the power was cut off and I nearly flew over the handgrips!

  5. I read while walking on my treadmill, too. 🙂

  6. I tried to read on the treadmill. It was near impossible. I, also, read something that said that you shouldn’t watch TV or do anything else while exercising because you won’t lose weight as quickly. Honestly, I wouldn’t even get on the treadmill if it wasn’t for the TV. I find it soooo boring!

    However, I don’t like being overweight. It doesn’t feel good. It feels really uncomfortable and that’s why I care about what I weigh.

  7. I can’t even imagine being on a treadmill without something to distract! Maybe your next goal can be to read only when you’re exercising. That way, you’ll be motivated to exercise, and you can still lose weight while reading.

    • I tried that, actually. I wound up with blisters! Next year my goal is to *write* a book, which necessarily means I’ll be reading less.

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