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My arms! (Or why I am actually normal)

August 3, 2009

Recently, with this warm weather, a few people have commented about my strong arms.  The best line was from a Toronto gal who, in perfect Toronto-speak, practically interrogated me: “Tell me exactly what your work-out regimen is!”

It’s set me thinking…  because I don’t have a workout regimen.  OK, last year I was training quite hard for a triathlon – swimming and kayaking, and doing a bit of weights too, as well as my running and biking.  But that My armstriathlon was last August – a full year ago – and I have barely done any training at all since then.  And especially not arm training.  I’ve been in my kayak only two or three times this year, and I’ve hardly been in a pool since January either.

So I’ve been reflecting upon this.  I haven’t been “working out”, yet my body is stiff and sore from exercise.  And I realize that it is my chosen lifestyle.  I try to live as low-impact on the world as I can, at least in most areas of my life, and this means that I must keep active.

I don’t own a car – I bike as much as I possibly can.  I brought my bike to Vancouver for my writing course at UBC – and, even though I had use of my friend’s van, I rode my bike up that big hill every day.  (Hills are great armwork on a bike!)

I also put a lot of effort into growing and gathering my food – July is one of the prime months for that, and that is why my muscles are so sore now.  I’ve dug and planted two veggie gardens in the last month, I was clamming for four days in late July (the last low clamming tides of this summer) and I also scored five freshly caught local sockeye salmon, which I butchered and canned.  All that digging – for clams, and in the garden – has been great for the arms and legs and back, and I can even feel it in my core muscles.

I am fit mainly because I am active.  Yes, I do “work out” or “train” when I have the time – but I am active for several hours of every day.  Every day.  I refuse to “buy in” and just drive around when I can bike, and to purchase all of my food when I can actually get much of it myself.  I value the slower pace of biking – not stressing and rushing around.  I value the freshness and healthiness of my locally grown and gathered food.  I value the calming and meditative hours of work that collecting or growing my food entails.  I value having the kind of fitness that is not gained by three or four hard training sessions a week (aerobics or running or spinning or whatever), but the kind of fitness (and associated calorie-burn) that comes with a high level of “background” physical activity.

It strikes me that this, really, is how all of our ancestors have always lived.  It is only in the last half-century or so that most of us spend much of our day seated, in cars or at desks.  People used to walk or ride bikes a lot, to get anywhere at all – they did not expect to zip across town in some matter of minutes.  It is also only in the last half century that people get most of their food from the supermarket (that they drove to).  No wonder there is such an obesity epidemic in North America.  It is not just the poor-quality processed food many people live on, it is also that they have no background calorie burn.

Most people categorize what is “normal” by looking around them and observing what other people are doing.  So you might look at my life choices and say that I am not “normal” – because I am not behaving like most North Americans today.  But my formal scientific training is as a geologist, and we geologists are trained to understand time.  Humans have been on this planet for over one million years now – up until the last century (i.e. for the first 99.99% of human history), moving around under our own steam all day long in order to collect our food was “normal”.

The way we “Westerners” are living now is what is abnormal.

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  1. Back in training! « Jacqueline Windh

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