E is for Exercise

Something happened during first year at Secondary School that had repercussions for my weight and health for years afterwards.

Perhaps it was the scabby changing rooms, or the development of adolescent sweat glands, or the lack of shower curtains and the time to use the showers (“OK girls, five minutes until your next class. Go and get changed”), perhaps it was the obsession with all things physical that comes from being told, constantly, at school about how your body is changing (the butch gym teacher telling you to come to her for ‘supplies’ if you need them, the RE teachers talking to you about your feelings, the science teacher reaching “Section Six”…) and the extreme phsyical awkwardness that it engendered in me for the first time in my life.

Likely it was also to do with the butch gym teacher and the fact that, instead of doing any one sport until we got good at it, they threw kids from all different backgrounds into one class and made them take six weeks of netball, six weeks of hockey, six weeks of gymnastics, six weeks of dance. Going from a tournament-playing netball team to a class where some people have to be taught to pass the ball (and can’t) dampens the enthusiasm a bit. Taking a gymnastics class that consists mostly of standing waiting for your turn to jump over the pommel horse, or being asked to climb a rope with no instruction (“just hook your legs around it. Oh ho ho, look everyone, she fell!”) doesn’t inspire. I think the killer was in the ‘summer’ term when they inflicted athletics on us. Javelin was great, the twice we got to hold the spears, and the long jump was fun, except for the fact that the sporty kids in the class inevitably beat your best jump, which was dispiriting. But running around the track until you felt like throwing up, for no reason that I could understand, that was the last straw. I prayed for rain. I yearned for any of the other things I could be doing with my time.

And so I went from a kid who played netball one night after school, danced in a competitive country dancing team on another, took a modern dance class on a third night, rode horses, skateboarded and roller-skated whenever the rain let up, and cycled everywhere, to someone who avoided exercise (or more precisely, P.E.) like the plague. Any hint of sweat and I was gone, baby.

By third year I had contrived to take singing lessons for a few weeks leading up to a concert and, oh dear, they conflicted with P.E. No-one ever checked with the music department to see whether or not I was still taking singing lessons after the concert, so I spent a blissful hour every week for the rest of the year in the practice rooms, playing the piano while everyone else trudged through whatever conveyor-belt exercise the sports department had dreamed up that week.

There were no teams, no events that we competed in, nothing to recommend formal exercise. as anything other than a colossal, and sweaty, waste of my time.

I have flirted with exercise at various points since then. I danced a lot at University, and I swam before work every day leading up to my wedding. Mostly though, like the wedding-prep swimming, it has been motivated by a need to lose weight for some occasion or other. Or just because I reach that point where you can’t stand yourself any longer.

I’ll admit that signing up for my Pilates class started out that way. I’m on the Weight Watchers plan and, since I’m actually losing weight, my points allowance is shrinking. The only way to get to eat more food is to earn back some points through ‘Activity’, as they carefully call it.

But I LOVE Pilates.  For one thing, I don’t get sweaty (much) and I don’t get winded. It’s really hard work but it’s slow and graceful (when I’m not collapsing or losing my balance) and I feel fan-tas-tic when I’m finished.

Last week I was even disappointed that we were going on holiday, because I was going to miss my second Pilates class! Crazy.

Actually, now that I’ve reminisced a little about my pre-adolescent self, I’m starting to realise it’s not as crazy as I thought. I like moving. I like being strong. I like feeling as energetic as I do after exercise. I just don’t like being bullied by gym teachers, being embarrassed or being all winded and outclassed and pushed too far.

When I got home today, I danced around the living room with G, and caught sight of my grinning face in the mirror.

Wow, I though. What must it be like to be one of those people who have this much energy all the time?

Rumour has it that the more you exercise and the stronger you are, and the better you eat, the more energy you have. Remind me of this later in the week, won’t you?


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