Fitness, Fathletes, and Thirty Minutes

Me, mid spin, preparing to sweep kick out. Photoraph by Linda Garber thanks to Marilyn Wann.

Today I want to talk about health, fitness, and being a fathlete. But before I do as always I want to point out that health is not a moral, social, or personal obligation, nor is it a barometer to judge anyone by.  People get to choose to be professional bull riders, climb Everest, and jump out of a helicopter wearing skis even though none of those things prioritize their health.  Each individual gets to choose how highly they prioritize their health and what path they take and nobody gets to judge anybody else’s choices or results.

That being said, if health is something that you want to prioritize, it’s interesting to note that more and more research is showing that the best thing that we can do for our health is be physically active.

(Source: Wei et al. “Relationship Between Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Mortality in Normal-Weight, Overweight, and Obese Men.” JAMA. 1999;282: 1547-1553.)

And I’m not talking about running a marathon –  the research is showing about 30 minutes a day, about 5 days a week is all that’s needed.  It doesn’t even have to be 30 consecutive minutes, you just need to get your heart rate up 30 minutes a day most days.  I know that’s a lot different than what I used to think a few years ago- that I had to spend hours in the gym or it wouldn’t do any good.   I’ve got a video at the end of the blog that I think does a great job talking about this, but first I want to talk about how we get the idea of physical fitness so twisted in this society.

We celebrate people who run farther, go faster, push the boundaries of human endurance. Those of us who push the boundaries tend to be proud of the level of our athleticism. But is this the best or only way to be healthy?

No! Abso-freaking-lutely not.

In fact, we might be healthier if we just took a few walks every week.  Over a lifetime of playing sports, athletes usually end up with any number of injuries that a normal healthy person would never have.

That’s not bad, necessarily, but it concerns me that celebrating hardcore athleticism in society discourages people who could reach their health goals if they just moved 30 minutes a day on most days.  I worry that instead of happily getting their heart rates up 30 minutes a day, people feel like they need to run a marathon or they just shouldn’t bother moving at all.  I wonder what would happen if society would glorify dancing around your living room, gardening, hoop dancing, walking around the block – whatever kind of movement you would like to do, instead of glorifying only those at the most extreme. There are so many ways to be an athlete (and/or fathlete) and I think that we would do better to celebrate all of them!

There are people for whom testing the limits of their bodies is part of what they love about movement. That’s fine. Health at Every Size doesn’t preclude that, it just says that there are lots of movement options and all are equally legitimate.

I once heard an Ironman competitor say that “To make it through the Ironman you don’t need to be the best, you just need to be consistent and keep pushing forward.” I think that’s good advice for anyone who wants to incorporate movement.  If you feel like you’re not getting enough movement in your life, find some stuff you like to do and do it. Try something new. If you like it do some more of it.  If not, you don’t need to do it ever again.  If you like to run and feel like you’d like to try a 5K,  or whatever – try it.  If you’ve had a dysfunctional relationship with exercise (i know that I did – I don’t even like to use that word), then try redefining that relationship.

Remember that you get to choose what movement you want to do. You can do a grueling solo workout in the gym or go on a walk with friends in the neighborhood.  You can be healthy and happy even if you never run a mile, or you could run a marathon or triathlon or do any number of cool fathletic things!  If you want to be healthier and/or feel like you’d like to move more then try moving a little more and see what happens.

No marathon necessary.

I thought that this video did a fabulous job of talking about the benefits of a little movement:

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

45 thoughts on “Fitness, Fathletes, and Thirty Minutes

  1. That is surprising. My job is physically demanding. I have to walk swiftly, lift up to 70 lbs repeatedly, bend, twist, etc constantly. There isn’t a day I don’t sweat. This is all before 8 am too. But if I go home and sit sedentary all day, it takes a toll on me rather than if I take a few more time through the day to do something that gets my heart rate up. So I will work out, clean house, chase after the cat, horse play with my boyfriend…something on and off through the day other than just the workout I get from work. Otherwise I’ll just conk out on the couch after work is over and feel like ass when I have to go back to work at 2am the next day.

  2. FABULOUS video! Thanks for sharing!!

    I am one of the ones who has never managed to find any kind of activity that I enjoy, and now that I am at the weight I am (and for me the weight does directly affect this) it is physically very difficult to get this sedentary body to do it. I am committing here in print that I will get up at work and do 15 minutes of walking around the building every day this week, even if I would rather poke staples in my eyes. That is a MAJOR commitment to me, but I’m tired of being the couch potato in a sedentary job and I WANT to want to exercise – I’ve just become so scared of it. Foolish, perhaps, but there it is.

    I loathe so much that feeling of being out of breath because I feel the shame of “shouldn’t,” and “how did you let your health get so far gone?”

    I am under the care of a HAES-supportive nutritionist whom I love and a therapist who puts the steel-toed cleats on before she kicks my ass (not in an abusive manner – she’s just very direct). She reminds me that everything is my choice and that I have to own that choice, whatever it is.

    Anyway, there’s my commitment. God help me (and I mean that).

    1. Hi Amy,

      You are totally my hero today – this is so inspiring. If there is anything that I can do to help or support you just let me know. My unsolicited advice (which of course you can take or leave) is to celebrate the victories and blow off the frustrations (and find something that you can listen to while you walk – music, audiobooks, anything to make the time go by…) Every time you do the 15 minutes – do your celebration dance. If something happens and you don’t get it in one day, don’t even worry about it, just get it going the next day.



      1. Ragen, you have made my day. And that’s the sort of thing that makes me want to succeed – I’m a big fan of real-life cheerleaders. It’s hard, sometimes, for me to do things for myself. I externalize a lot. But I’m working on INternalizing those things – but sometimes you need a cheering section to get started. Thank you for being mine today. *hugs*

      2. I’m with Ragen. As a slow fat triathlete – Hell, THE Slow Fat Triathlete – who’s rebuilding my own fitness from the very very beginning, I totally applaud and admire and “whoo hoo” you from afar. It takes nothin’ but guts to get up off the couch after being stuck there a long time, whether through fear or illness or busy-ness. I totally understand the dread of breathing hard from just walking around the block and thinking “what have I done to myself?” Hope you find a way to think instead, “OK, look what I’m doing for myself right now!”


    2. Your nutritionist sounds very wise and helpful. I agree with her about owning your choice. I hope you can overcome your shame. You have the opportunity to change your health, and the fact that you want to is very admirable. No one is perfect. I’m sure you can achieve your goals and I’m sure there is some activity out there that is enjoyable for you. Life has a lot to offer, and there are so many things do that may not seem enjoyable to you at first when you thinking about it, but you might change your mind once you actually start trying at them, even if it is something small.

    3. Not liking being out of breath when climbing stairs is what got me moving and doing things. And after a while of pushing I came to enjoy the exercise I did for its own sake. Before I’d always been motivated to exercise because I hoped that it would make me lose weight, then I got down-hearted and quit when that didn’t work. I did not like exercise and it was something I felt that I sucked at. I have found the desire for fitness far more motivating because I can see it improving. I really hope that the same thing happens for you and you find something that gets you excited about movement! Good luck and hang in there!

      1. That is what I’m hoping for. I’m learning that motivation does NOT come before action, no matter what the media and our “fitness gurus” would have us believe. Motivation is a result of action. As Attila the Wendy (my therapist) is wont to say, “You change your behavior by changing your behavior.” Sounds kinda duh-ish at first blush, but there’s really profound commentary in that.

    4. Just have to say Amy – I LOVE what you said:

      “I’m learning that motivation does NOT come before action, no matter what the media and our “fitness gurus” would have us believe. Motivation is a result of action. As Attila the Wendy (my therapist) is wont to say, “You change your behavior by changing your behavior.” Sounds kinda duh-ish at first blush, but there’s really profound commentary in that”.

      I think I’ve been waiting for motivation to hit me upside the head. Not sure why wanting to be healthier and feel better has not been ‘motivating’ enough, but I think I’ll go try just forcing myself to build a movement habit rather than sitting on the couch waiting for divine inspiration to smack me in the face! =>

  3. Thanks for this post, Ragen 🙂 I’d love to hear you talk more about how you changed your relationship with exercise… I have a completely dysfunctional relationship with pretty much any kind of movement & I’d love to even think that I could change that. For me, it comes from a sense of shame that developed doing Phys Ed classes in school, where I was often singled out for being unfit and humiliated by being constantly asked if I “every did ANY exercise”.

    At the time, I was swimming & playing badminton every week, as well as walking to-from the bus stop every day, which was a 30 min walk each way. I was, however, also living with two chain smokers (my parents), and so I got winded very easily.

    All that to say that I cannt take any enjoyment in exercise… I always feel inadequate & awkward when I do; whether that’s walking by myself or (horror) taking a class with others. I would LOVE to change that.

  4. What I don’t understand is why healthcare professionals [mine at least] seem determined that everyone have an exercise REGIMEN. When I told my doctor I walk as often as I can, to stores, to the mailbox etc, and can spend an hour walking around the neighborhood or the park just for fun and I also bought an exercise bike for bad weather days, which, for a time I used regularly every day, 30 minutes a day, I got interrogated – How often are you walking? Why did you stop exercising every day? How many times have you excercised this week?

    She seemed to feel that it wasn’t really exercise if I didn’t do it with some sort of perfectly reportable consistency. Saying I exercise as often as I can just wasn’t good enough, I needed to be hitting a quota and because I wasn’t, I needed to join a gym or something. Needless to say, I’m looking for a new doctor who’s a lot smarter and I’m still walking and riding the bike, when I can and because I want to, not to fit into a schedule.

    1. On the flip side, there are also health care providers who — if I say I do X type of exercise 30-60 minutes per day, 6 days per week — will assume I am, if not outright lying, at least fibbing a little. I sometimes feel like the whole thing is a set-up: Penalized for not meeting the “right” types of exercise but also penalized for doing so.

      1. OMG Tori. I hate healthcare providers like that. And I’ve had similiar experiences. Last year, I was hard-core training for a triathlon. I was in the gym or on the roads at least…16-20 hours a week and when I’d tell my doctor that in response to “do you exercise” they’d seem absolutely shocked and their attitude totally indicated that they thought I was lying. Interestingly, if you talk to most people in the triathlon communities etc, none of them blink an eye when, I, the fat girl, talk to them about doing endurance sports. In fact, they are often welcoming and encouraging.

        1. Yup. I’ve actually gone so far as to start requesting, “Please don’t ask me the question if you’re not going to respect my answer,” to the ones who were more vocal about their skepticism. (“Really? Every day?” “What exactly are you counting as exercise?” “When you say 30 minutes, you don’t really mean 30 minutes, do you?”)

          I will keep my current NP, who might raise her eyebrows at my response but who at least bases her health recommendations off the answers I give.

    2. My doctor says these passive aggressive things simply as a way of expressing his disbelief that I’m doing them. Instead of being aggressive and just saying he doesn’t believe me, instead he interrogates me just like you describe above. Unfortunately for him, I have extensive experience living with passive aggressive people and it’s very obvious to me that’s what he’s doing.

      Then I piss him off by not answering his inflammatory questions.

    3. “She seemed to feel that it wasn’t really exercise if I didn’t do it with some sort of perfectly reportable consistency.”

      That sounds like someone putting THEIR preferred exercise method on to you (and everyone of their patients, probably). “The way it works for ME is to have a regimen, so you have to do it that way too”.

      Definitely time for a new doctor (IMO), and btw, I LOVE your exercise routine – you have movement as part of your life.

  5. yes I loved this blog 🙂 30 minutes a day, even if you spread it out……you know people dont realize how good physical exercise feels to the body. Admittedly, I like working out, dancing, running, taking long walks because I feel a sense of accomplishment and my body feels really good afterward and usually for the rest of the day….more energy, more alertness, it’s quite delightful

    1. I hate exercise. Seriously. I just came from a heart pumping session at Curves. I still hate it. It just feels like a panic attack on purpose to me. They ask me all the time “you like it now don’t you?”. No, no, I don’t like it. I hate it. 🙂 Yes, I’m using a smiley to make this comment seem less bitchy. mea culpa

      I do, however, like riding my bike gently along on flat surfaces or walking somewhere to see something, light hiking. But unless it’s new and exciting or something I haven’t seen in a while, it’s boring and — drum roll — I hate it. lol That’s why I started Curves, it’s regimented and I don’t have to think about it. I just do what the little lights tell me to.

      I hate it but I do it with the attitude of “this is like going to work every day”. It’s not something I do because I like it, it’s something I do because it’s good for me. Or I’m pretty sure it’s good for me anyway. I’ve never seen anything contrary to that.

      Everyone keeps telling me that I won’t keep doing something I hate, but, frankly, I hate all exercise. At least this is quick and a no brainer. I don’t have to work out how to up my work out or anything, the computer does it for me. I have kept up with this since June, for the first time ever in my whole life for 6 whole months and counting. And I’m 40. Oh and my attention span is this >< long. lol I"m kinda jelus of you guys who like some sort of exercise.

    1. Oops! Hate commenting on my phone. Anyway, I’m lucky that I actually like working out, and was happy to do 45-60 minutes most days in the gym..but then they said “Oh, no, less than 90 minutes is useless!” and although I didn’t quit, I did find it discouraging. The amount I do makes me feel good and that’s what I should focus on anyways. Thanks for the reminder of that!

      Also, thanks for always reminding us to find movement we actually like. For years I felt guilty that although I was relatively fit, I hated to run and couldn’t go more than a mile or so without feeling sick. So I tried to make myself a runner. I finished a 10k…but I hated every second and was continually getting hurt during training. Finally I realized that I actually missed my old workouts and that switching back was not a failure…but it probably would’ve happened faster if I read your blog at the time. So, thanks again!

      1. Less than 90 minutes is useless?? Bullsh**. All the research says that simply moving your body even in short bursts of cleaning, walking extra steps, etc. throughout the day has a positive effect. Those folks are full of it.

        I’m happy that you like working out, and I say go and do exactly as you choose. That will give you the best quality of life.

  6. I would also love to hear about how you changed your relationship to exercise–I’m in the process of doing that myself and find it daunting.

    1. Me too. I am part of the “never good enough” group. Cognitively, I know that I don’t have to be miserable in my workout and 30 minutes IS enough, but I’m still fighting the “little voice” in my head about what I do not being good enough. Working on it though!

  7. Love this. It’s all smart and awesome. I identify as a fathlete- quite a bit. And I have a goal to do a half ironman in 2014 (unless I get pregnant, in which case I’ll push it back a few years). In any case, I love to exercise. If I had more time, I’d do it more— my biggest pet peeve is at the gym, after I pop off a machine someone encouragingly says to me “Wow, that’s great, I lost [insert some poundage] by working out every day! You can too” Then, I have to have a talk with them about fitness etc etc. But yay for your smart thoughts!

    1. Congratulations – that’s fantastic. I hate it when that happens after the gym. I’ve actually gotten up after a set of leg presses with over 500 pounds to have someone say “good for you for starting an exercise program!” Dude are you kidding me? Thanks for the comment, I’m really glad that you liked the blog. Go fathletes!


  8. I’m in the same place as some others here. I’ve been really sedentary for a really long time. I’m convinced that I need to start exercising and that it will improve my health regardless of any weight loss that may or may not happen and I”m ok with that. I just can’t find my motivation to climb what seems like Mt. Everest to get back to decent ‘shape’. I’m also having a hard time finding something I like to do because I don’t want to put up with obnoxious people honking and yelling at me on my busy street and I don’t want to show up alone at a zumba class or something this out of shape. It feels like I’m full of excuses, but I guess I just don’t want to put up with the inevitable judgemental looks and comments that come along with being fat and exercising in public, but I don’t have a lot of space at home either. what to do what to do . . .

    1. I like Curves. Very non-judgmental and the exercise machines were perfect for me to get up to speed on. I can’t say I enjoy it because I despise exercise but it has worked out great to give me strength and muscle tone. I was completely sedentary. The only thing that caused me grief was the commentary when I started that ” you’ll be able to lose so much weight” to which I responded, “you did put down that I want to be strong, not lose weight, right??” Because my dog kept pulling me over because I was weak. They tailor your Curves Smart, which I recommend because it challenges you without beating you to death or making you feel small, to whatever your goals are.

      I haven’t once heard a single sizism comment, or ageism for that matter, older women seem to really like it too.

      1. Thanks for the reminder about Curves. I left one curves once because people used to look at me like I was going to fall over and die when I got a little red in the face, but I went to another that I liked. I may have to try it again now that I’ve moved and there are several in my area. I always found the machines easy to use, so that might be a good place to start!

    2. I have been in that place, Jennifer. It is an ugly, hard place. As I said above, motivation does NOT come before we take action – it is a result of action. We are conditioned by society to expect to feel motivated before we do something but it almost never happens that way.

      The first place to start exercising is in your brain. You are looking at it like “Mt. Everest,” but you have to shift how you look at it before you can do anything about it. It’s like how Ragen points out that we don’t take care of things we hate, so we have to learn to love our bodies. The learning to love part comes first, THEN the improved treatment. There’s a method to that.

      I have learned that I don’t have to go to any classes or gyms to start my own exercising – I am starting by taking walks around the floors in my office adding up to 15 minutes in a day. If it’s something you choose to do, you can find that same kind of opportunity somewhere – maybe it’s showing up at your church and walking around the sanctuary for 15 minutes a day for a few weeks. The point is that something is available and your own creativity can help you find that outlet – but only if you want it.

      If you don’t want it, then that’s fine too, and that’s your choice. We will love you just as is no matter which you choose. You are DESERVING of love no matter which you choose. *hugs*

      1. Aww thanks Amy! I got to thinking earlier and I realized there are so many other things in live I have just dove into and taken the reins at and have been pretty successful and I didn’t sit around waiting for divine inspiration then, so what is it about exercise? I think I’m using fear as a mental block/excuse and the only way around that really is to just dive right in and deal w/it!

  9. You know I think Ellen Degeneres does an excellent job of promoting dancing around your living room. That is the second thing I think of when I think of her.

  10. I have to share my own “Do you do ANY exercise” comment… I had been on a four-day backpacking trip in the eastern Sierras, and about a week later I was feeling kind of flu-y and had a weird rash on my leg. Being a hypochonriac, I went to (not my regular) doctor to get checked for Lyme disease. The doctor said, “Well, you’ve gained a lot of weight in the last year. It’s possible that your malase is due to that. Do you do any exercise?” I said, did you not just hear me tell you I went on a four-day backpacking trip? That involves climbing up and down passes that are over 10,000 feet while carrying my own weight plus the pack? And yeah, besides that I either swim, ride my bike, or run five days a week. Gah.

  11. This is so timely for me.. I was just today thinking about how I’d like to get back to exercising again. Thing is, I’m afraid to. It’s been so long and I’m so out of shape.. I’m scared of how little I’ll be able to do. Not to mention I’m still having pain in my legs when I walk for a bit (had physical therapy for this months ago, but then my insurance coverage ran out).

    I’m almost in tears because I’m so frustrated.. mainly at myself for “letting myself go” so much. Before my now 5yo son was born, I was able to walk for an hour at about 4mph. Now I can probably only do 10-15min and I’ve measured my walking rate at about 3mph. And every now and then I get the motivation to get started again.. but then after a week or two it dies off and then I go months before starting again, so I see no progress.

    1. Do you love playing with your son? Then how about finding some active play you can do together a couple of times a day? Play tag in the living room where he has to chase you and then tickle each other, or an active game of Simon Says or Hide-n-Seek in the backyard, or maybe take him to the park and climb on monkey bars with him. There are SO many active things you can do together. You do not have to make it “exercise” and take solo walks. You can also make it educational. Take him on a short nature hike in the neighborhood and make him show you five different kinds of leaves (or rocks or surfaces or something) – then you can go home and look them up and teach him what kinds of trees they are. Creativity is everything with kids – and when you run out of ideas, ask HIM what he wants to do with you. 🙂

      GOOD LUCK! 😀

  12. I’m right there with many of you – wanting to be more active but full of anxiety about making the time, dealing with other people, avoiding injury and dealing with my own limitations. I haven’t done much movement in the past year, but before I stopped my favorite thing was playing Dance Central on the Xbox. It’s so much fun but my joints always ached the next day and I wondered if I was hurting my skeletal system while improving my cardio health… I plan to start back anyway – nothing else within my current abilities really appeals to me.

    I will say one thing about the anxiety/guilt about getting out of breath easily – it does suck at first but, at least for me, that stage passes fairly quickly. Within a few weeks of doing regular exercise, my endurance builds up to where I can do a lot more without getting winded. It’s a nice thing to look forward to.

  13. This is so true! I got a job in the summer and ever since I started (and I was getting about an hour of straight walking 5 days a week) I felt so much better and more in shape! Stairs didn’t bother me as much and it’s opened the door for me to enjoy talking long walks and even play Wii games more often. (Sorry I’ve been neglecting you, Just Dance games!)

  14. Hi Ragen,
    I love your blog, which is why I am reading your archive now…

    This post is a good place to mention my one pet peeve, though. You always write explicitly that no one has to work out or exercise and that’s great. But you never mention that for some people exercise is very unhealthy.

    I am one of those people. I have a chronic illness and because of that I have very limited energy and am almost incapable of building up strength or stamina.

    At the moment I am healthier than I have been in a long time. I love exercise and movement (being unable to move from my bed or couch for ten years does that to a person…), but I still can’t do more than 10 minutes of exercise every two days. If I do more, I’ll get a relapse and it’s back to the couch for me. Also, I swim once a week and have been for the last three years. In those three years I managed to increase my swimming from 300 meters to 450 meters.

    (This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the exercise I do or that I’m not proud of what I’ve accomplished)

    Even though I know you don’t mean it that way, every time you write about how easy exercise is and how good it is for you, I am reminded of all those people (doctors included) who wanted to cure me by forcing me to exercise, even when a ten minute walk would put me in bed for the next three days.

    Anyway, I just wanted to add this perspective. I still love your blog and especially the pictures of you dancing. They are simply beautiful.

Leave a Reply to shellymc Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.