43 Comments
Jan 30Liked by Ed West

Yes, it's almost embarrassing how effective exercise is for improving mood. You may think you have big fancy intellectual theories about whether life is worth living or just a meaningless void, which you have arrived at through profound reflection. But it turns out it's all just MEAT MACHINE NEED GO BROOM-BROOM.

On the need for some hardship to live a happy life, I highly recommend reading The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter. Very good on the science and philosophy of why we need discomfort.

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Jan 30Liked by Ed West

This is excellent, and very true! Park Run and other organised exercise are good things - I know a few people who've got back into exercise in middle age due to them.

I remember reading an article about mountain gorillas a while ago, who sit around all day and eat whatever they want and still stay incredibly strong and healthy. Humans are just constructed very differently - I can't remember what the theory was as to why, perhaps something to do with the calories required for abstract brain work that gorillas don't really go in for. Anyway, the upshot was that humans will quite quickly lose capabilities that aren't being employed regularly, whereas at least some animals just reach their equilibrium and never have to work at it again. Which is a bit annoying really, though I suppose we did end up with complex civilisations and moon landings instead - every cloud, etc.

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Jan 30Liked by Ed West

I was an utter klutz at any sport and I loathed gym class.

But I love outdoor activity. As a teenager I learned to ski (how better to enjoy winter in Michigan?) and I've always been an avid bicyclist. I used the Pandemic era of working from home to double or even triple the amount of time I spent on a bike in place of my not-missed car commute to work.

I have a friend going through serious depression, and I'm doing my best to get him out and active. Endorphin highs do not last, but they're harmless, and to the extent they may be addicting it's the one addiction which brings health benefits with it.

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Jan 30Liked by Ed West

Thanks Ed, I was with BMF for a few years soon after it started in the late 90s and I loved it, particularly when I stopped doing my sit-ups on the coot-poo rich shores of the Serpentine and moved to Battersea Park instead. I can’t recommend it highly enough, the instructors are so encouraging, the other members are charming and my progress was amazing.

One caveat was that I started from such a high weight (over 17 stones), that I was always picking up little injuries even as I got stronger, and then kids! It’s only once I passed 55 that i have got lighter and fitter, and it started with dieting first (thanks Covid). I needed to get below 15 stones before I could walk and run regularly without fraying tendons and hamstrings and turning ankles. Who knows, I might even rejoin BMF for one more go.

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'I recall [rugby] basically just turning into organised fighting (perhaps that’s just what rugby is)'

That's funny. After a lifetime of watching and playing football I realised about 15 years ago that I hated the simulation, the celebrations and the general arrogance of footballers while liking the tough, non-victimhood mentality of rugby players. Now having watched rugby for a decade and a half I can tell you that there actually IS more to it than just scrabbling about in the mud.

I think your more personal posts are my favourites, which may be disheartening for you considering the amount of effort you probably put into the more difficult, non-personal stuff. For myself though, I'm pleased to discover I'm not at all autistic and prefer personal stories to graphs and regression analysis, whatever that is.

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Jan 31Liked by Ed West

This is a great read, as many say, and it resonates a lot (especially the experience of PE at school!) One benefit of exercise is that you can (nearly) *always* achieve a success, which isn't the same with almost every other bl**dy thing which confronts you during the working day. It's great to read the different types of exercise that people do, my own favourite is HIIT or any other form of interval/circuit training (because each awful bit never lasts that long.) And even if I want nothing more than 20 minutes of low-level intervals, *I can achieve that*, even during the Worst Week At Work Since Records Began Say The Met Office (TM), because all I have to do is put my trainers on and switch on a Team Body Project video and leap about for 20 minutes. That "victory" - by, of and for the self - that's what keeps me (psychologically) "at it", I think.

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I've dealt with depressive episodes, so I can say from experience that, while going outside for a nice run in the sunshine isn't quite the *cure* for depression, it *is* guaranteed to make you feel better. I was also morbidly overweight as a younger man, so this hits very close to home. I distinctly remember, at age 29, bounding up the stairs to go to bed and being comically out of breath. I couldn't sleep that night because I kept thinking that if I didn't change, I'd be dead in less than ten years. I thereafter lived like a monk for a period of six months and shed 80 pounds. There followed a period of about a year where I took things too far and developed bulimia (something I'm still too embarrassed to mention to anyone), losing another 20 pounds and looking terribly gaunt. I eventually got over this mostly from fear that I'd be found out. COVID put another 35 pounds on my frame over and above where I'm comfortable and it wasn't until I had my daughter that I finally found a program that works for me, a large part of which is the bland acceptance that I'm simply going to have to work at this for the rest of my life, and I'm going to do it for her. Keep it up, Ed

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I was useless at sports at school. Last to be picked for teams, didn't even try. In my last two years of school I just flatly stopped going to PE. Our teacher, may God reward him, turned a blind eye.

Fast forward two decades. I'm overweight, conscious of my mortality and with a wife who has a "personal interest" in my physical strength and stamina, if you know what I mean. On the advice of a book, I started walking in the park, then jogging in the park, and then, when the weather turned cold, joined the gym. It has improved my life (and, yes, marriage) in many ways. It's definitely improved my mood. During a rough emotional patch last autumn, I clung to exercise like a lifeline, something my teenage self would never have expected ever to do. It also never occurred to my priggish younger self, who found the meathead jock stereotype off-putting, how well the gym suits introverts. You can just stick in your earphones and be in your little world as you do your workout.

Funnily enough, though I can honestly say that I've felt better at the end of every workout I've ever done, I *still* have to force myself to go to the gym. Human nature remains fallen. Having something enjoyable on hand to listen to definitely helps!

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",All forms of exercise can help."

In which case, try walking.

In addition to being the cheapest and healthiest, it enables one to avoid team sports and enjoy solitude.

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I'm amused at the natural coincidences of life. I live in an area with many schools with strong sporting traditions and just yesterday afternoon I noticed a pack of teen boys getting in and out of cars outside a team member's house. Some kind of after practice celebration. The pack mentality was on full display and it brought back memories of my school days when I viewed sports and boys who played sports with suspicion that I now know to have been partly jealousy. Today I understand what it's all about. Exercise, fresh air, camaraderie, a sense of place on a team, connections with others, working together in a group. It's stimulating! All factors that translates well into careers, which is why so many athletes end up doing so well in corporate worlds while the bookish kids like me end up in the more isolated professions and consulting.

Worth considering swimming. I swim several times a week. It's a wonderful way to decompress after a busy day. I pop out at lunchtime when the pool isn't busy, do a steady 2km, dive into a cold shower afterwards for the shock of cold water (very invigorating!) and then a proper warm shower. The body feels great afterwards and I credit swimming for keeping me trim and fit. And a great thing about swimming is that it's just you and your thoughts.

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I started rock climbing aged 18 in 1978, and it's been by far the best thing for my 'head'. Still climbing. A fat-burning walk first thing, before eating or drinking owt (bar water), works well (a brisk 20 minutes is enough, but I usually stick on The Rest is History and do longer). Add 16/8 intermittent fasting, resistance band exercises, and Mosley's (Michael, not Oswald) fast exercise (three quick bursts on exercise bike each week) and you've a plan for people like me who hate gyms.

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Too true. Gibbon commented long ago the complaints of the Arabian physicians that "exercise and temperance deprived them of the greatest part of their practice" among the nascent Muslim community.

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Frankly, most of the benefits touted for Exercise are in fact the benefits from meeting people and occupying one's mind in an undemanding way.

Thus a tiddlywinks competition or poetry festival is as valuable as Running or Rugby.

Hence too, the most valuable exercise of all is that of leaving one's home and mingling with the crowd or watching the world go by.

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founding

This was great Ed I didn't know you were into this stuff. I started exercising seriously a couple years ago and eventually got into extreme endurance cardio stuff that I do a lot now. I talk about it a lot on my Twitter and you might have seen those posts.

I am on a three-year program to get into the absolute best physical shape I can by my 47th birthday (I turned 44 recently) so that I will have a strong body to carry me through to the rest of my life that I am now more than halfway through.

I'm a big fan of "runner's high" (it's real and the fuzzy sense of well-being can last for several hours) and it's the thing that I think really gets me motivated. You seem to have a vaguely similar experience when you speak of endorphins here.

One thing: I absolutely loathe lifting weights. Just find it very tedious. I do it because I have to in order to keep losing muscle mass with aging, but it's a chore and I have zero interest in getting huge. Wiry, maybe, but I would look ridiculous swole. Would look like I had something to prove.

My favorite is incline treadmill. Have you ever tried that?

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Just as a counterpoint. While I never served- I worked for the Peruvian military a lot. I always just thought of as being back in the days of Barn Elms, Block runs, and getting off the bus at Hammersmith

Make sure your standing up when someone important enters the room. Keep your shoes clean and show up on time

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The strong man will always feel better than the weaker version of the same man. I don't know who first said that, but it's 100% true. Exercise is the most important thing in my life besides my family. I'd be a wreck without it. (I'm still a mess, but less of one if I were sedentary.)

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