This I Believe

Susan - Santa Monica, California
Entered on July 25, 2007

This I Believe – I Believe in Sweat

I once knew a Los Angeles ballerina who divided the world into those she called “mentaloids” and the others, like herself, “physicaloids”. Mentaloids were cerebral by nature, preferring reading, games, and discourse to anything requiring bodily exertion. Physicaloids were people who loved a good workout, played on teams, or ran as much for pleasure as for avoidance of fat. Although I took no genuine enjoyment in exercise until I was in my thirties, I think I can safely consider myself a hybrid of these broad categories. The joy I have received from pushing myself physically came as a surprise, and has taught me more about discipline than any job or class ever did.

I am no heroic jock, and if you transplanted my current mindset into my adolescent body, I would still never be more than a yeomen at best, the junior varsity worker bee who doesn’t humiliate the team but wins no special accolades either.

The roots of my sedentary past were in bookishness, the sure sign of a mentaloid. My mother took an occasional aerobics class, and my father swam competitively as a young man. But I was known as a smart girl and in the world of teenage identity conceived of by others, I felt both obliged to fulfill this role and lost and uncomfortable when I stepped out of it.

What I derive from actual sweat is a feeling of accomplishment, for sure. But my systematic embrace of exercise over the last eight years or so came on gradually, after many enthusiastic starts that ended a week or two after the initial gym visit. Ironically, I was a graduate student in public health, studying but not necessarily practicing my belief in preventative medicine. In those days, I would work up the resolve to do something physical, an exercise class or maybe the stairs at UCLA. While I would be huffing and sweating, I would see the whole picture of my new undertaking in my mind. The struggle of the first time would soon be replaced by mastery and cool-headed discipline. The mental cobwebs of my daily existence, the career angst of my twenties, family problems, would fall away as the underlying logic of each issue came into sharp relief during a short, intense stress on my body. I imagined that along with a svelte body, I would relish this one-on-one time with my demons and illusions. But I was ready for neither a fitter body nor a clearer head.

As time passed, a lifelong weight problem that had ebbed, flowed, but never disappeared, got worse. I was fortunate that many other things fared better: career, family, and my relationship with my husband. While it was a quiet and slow revolution, taking on exercise and making it about feeling wonderful, it was what began to teach me the value of daily work and long-term goals. Although I will always have to work on my health, a good sweaty workout has become a safe haven for me. I always assumed that I had to start with my head to get to my body, but it turns out that, for me, it was the other way around.