I’m Going to Start Exercising
Tommy Boone, PhD, MPH, MA, FASEP, EPC
Professor and Chair
Director, Exercise Physiology Laboratories
Department of Exercise Physiology
The College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, MN 55811
“Our chief need is exercise.”
-- William T. Boone
Just recently, it occurred to me that so few
people understand the power in exercise. I suppose my reflection
at this moment is both a result of my involvement in ASEP and my agreeing
to go with my wife to the mall this past weekend. Wow…what an experience!
Talk about someone who has spent too much time in the classroom and related
labs, department and college committee meetings, working on ASEP initiatives,
finding time to mentor and advise students, attending marketing meetings
for undergraduate and graduate exercise physiology programs, and occasionally
meeting with my own department faculty. I am that person.
I’m around young people more than adults.
Everyday and all day, I teach college students. I’ve done so for
nearly 40 years. It is not that I don’t mix with adults. Sometimes,
I actually have a brief conversation with an adult between classes.
Just last week, I met with three adults in my office to talk about undergraduate
and graduate budgets. It was a good meeting. Both budgets were
tentatively approved for the academic year, 2004-2005. Oh yes, how
could I forget, I met with a dozen or so adults for several hours the week
before regarding the promotion and tenure of several faculty members at
I also spend the evenings with my wife,
which reminds me why I’m writing this piece on exercise. Without
complaining in the least bit, my wife gets up every morning at 5:00 am
to exercise on the treadmill. Frankly, when she leaves the bedroom
and my eyes open about that time, I still trying to get air into my lungs.
Mornings are difficult for me. The first 30 seconds to a minute seems
like a battle for survival. By 6:00 am, I walk to the bathroom expecting
to make it. But, at times, I wonder if I’m going to make it.
I’m asking myself, “Why am I getting up this early?” The only answer
that makes any sense is that I must do so to get my parking space on campus.
If I arrive later than 7:00 am, the nearest parking space is 200 yards
from my office.
The importance of exercise should enter
the picture about now, but not yet. While it is obvious that I could
benefit from a regular exercise program, like everyone else, I tend to
get caught up in something else. I also keep thinking that I’m in
better shape than most adults where I work, which is not likely to be the
case. I know that my exercise capacity has decreased in recent years.
The strength of muscles is about half what it was just 10 years ago.
I’m not even going to talk about what I've lost in flexibility, although
I was a college gymnast 1000 years ago. So, you could say:
“If you understand that exercise capacity is one of the most important
independent predictors of cardiovascular mortality, why aren’t you exercising?
After all, you are an exercise physiologist.”
Good question. There are, of course,
entire libraries of reasons why people do not exercise. I know that
exercise capacity is a strong predictor of mortality. My students
have heard me say time-after-time: exercise capacity is a better
predictor of cardiac problems than high blood pressure, cigarette smoking,
and diabetes. My students have heard me say: exercise is medicine.
I have written that exercise is therapy . Not surprisingly, not
everyone is convinced. The problem is that it is impossible to predict
at the individual level who needs exercise more than the next person, so
a series of alternatives may be considered. Students, including most
adults, are likely to embrace the idea that no one really knows the science.
Maybe at some point down the road there will be a groundbreaking reality
or fact, but not now. After all, the very idea of thinking about
exercise as a pill like a specific prescriptive medication is hard to follow.
Who am I to question my students? Remember, I’m the person
who is waking up each day wondering if I’m going to survive the walk from
the bedroom to the bathroom. In general, students (and many adults)
appear to have gotten the idea that exercise is good for the body and even
the mind. Aside from physical educators, psychologists, medical doctors,
and other healthcare professionals, physical therapists, occupational therapists,
and nurses are using exercise to help their patients feel better.
Yet, many of the people I saw at the mall
are not engaged in regular exercise. Their only weight bearing exercise
had to be the distance from the recliner to the kitchen or some similar
combination of in-house ambulation. Activities that involve muscular
strength and endurance were defined by limited household requirements (e.g.,
making the beds, taking out the trash, or walking the dog). Preventing
muscle atrophy, maintaining functional range of motion, and improving the
cardiovascular system would not appear to be hot on their minds.
I suspect that on occasion they may talk about “getting some exercise”.
The reality is that tomorrow is always better when it comes to starting
an exercise program. The idea behind tomorrow is that it is a long
time from now. It tends to say, “There are no guts in not making
a decision. Obviously, I have no guts.”
“Tomorrow, I’m going to start exercising.”
It is always tomorrow, next week, or at some point in the future.
We know that regular exercise is a necessity in handling lifestyle issues
and concerns that often identify with dysfunction and/or disease.
We understand this, yet we push off the inevitable because exercise isn’t
a learned necessity. Most adults today did not grow up exercising
everyday in the same way that they were told to brush their teeth.
Their parents may have talked about doing push-ups or getting involved
with athletics, but they did not say that exercise was as important as
“ keeping a job”. Did they? No, I don’t think so. For
many men and women in the 50s and 60s, exercise has always been viewed
as boring and repetitious. Exercise is difficult. It is painful.
It is even considered as a waste of time by some adults. Most of
us understand that exercise can result in acute, even severe pain and,
when done inappropriately, it can be life threatening. Since no one
expects anyone to be perfect, what is the deal? In short, exercise
involves making a decision.
The point is: Exercise does not have to
conform to some preconceived notion, idea, or appearance. Maybe,
the idea of exercising is little more than a vision that you are excited
about. It is amazing how the mind works, and how it will go the extra
mile even if we do not understand it. Maybe this is not by accident.
What is exciting today is that we know that exercise does not have to be
high intensity to be beneficial . No one needs to engage in extreme
exercise to enjoy its rewards. In other words, “You don’t have to
beat the horse to run faster.” Sometimes, significant results come
from simplifying exercise. Hence, even though someone may run a sub-5-minute
mile pace for mile after mile and enjoy it, the effort is a departure from
reality for the majority of adults. Exercise of low to moderate intensity
makes everyone a winner. Exercise or even regular physical activity,
depending on a person’s age is in itself a sufficient stimulus to bring
about structural and functional changes to increase tissue extraction of
oxygen. A great deal of research has been published on this point,
and there are excellent books on the benefits of exercise in most popular
Television is full of information about
exercise. However, most of it is biased towards a product (e.g.,
a new exercise machine that usually lacks scientific validation).
The only thing that surprises me more than most is the idea that someone
actually believes that television commercials are non-biased. Just
yesterday a person emailed me to ask the question: “My wife heard on TV
that no one over 60 years old should exercise on a treadmill”. Apparently,
the TV personality said that the treadmill causes too much pressure on
the knees and other joints. Of course what was lost in the information
is the fact that the TV personality is marketing a product other than a
treadmill. To my knowledge, there are no scientific data to support
the statement. If a person cannot walk on a treadmill without
overloading the joints, then walking from room to room or from a parked
car to the office would probably be out of the question.
What surprises most people is that walking
is an excellent form of exercise. The problem is that the occasional
walk in the mall is not enough walking. It is virtually impossible
to get enough exercise from a few steps every other weekend in the mall.
Adults need to “get with the program”. The key is building an enduring
state of mind that exercise is as important as brushing one’s teeth.
If adults do this, they will benefit in numerous ways. Adults who
are interested in jogging or running or other forms of activities, then
jog and/or run. Aside from the obvious benefits of regular exercise
on the cardiovascular system, there are plenty of other reasons to exercise.
Muscles get stronger and have greater range of motion. With increased
physical stamina, the mind is influenced in a very positive manner.
People feel better when excess weight is dropped from their waistline and
hips. They are likely to eat better, improve posture, muscle tone,
strength and endurance, and recover better from engaging activities.
There is a decrease in strain on muscles, joints, and ligaments along with
hemodynamic changes, including but not limited to, a decrease in resting
and exercise heart rate with an increase in stroke volume. Cardiac
output is essentially the same at rest and during steady-state submaximal
The decrease in heart rate is especially
important since it is directly related to the heart’s need for oxygen.
The increase in vagal tone reflects improvement in the efficiency of the
heart to provide blood throughout the body. Numerous other physiological
responses share a similar response pattern. If elevated prior to
exercise, there is usually a decrease in systolic blood pressure at rest
and during submaximal exercise after training. The systolic response,
like heart rate, validates the increased efficiency of the heart to pump
blood to tissues throughout the body. Of course there are numerous
other structural and physiological changes that improve energy production
and tissue performance. Everything about exercise is positive, if
not overdone (and it is never too late to start). The problem is
the failure to exercise and, yet everybody knows that exercise is important.
Those of us who do not exercise cannot appreciate its power in shaping
our lives, in giving us hope, and in helping us take the next step.
I know that I’m going to start exercising today. I’m going to stay
with it. I don’t want to grow any older without exercising.
For certain, I don’t want to become like the adults I saw in the mall.
Life is too precious, and it really is a matter of choices we make.
“I am not much of a gambler at
Blackbear Casino and, yet I gamble with my life everyday by not exercising.
Perhaps, I dislike exercise more than I like living.” -- William
Here is what I believe. Life is precious.
We do have the freedom to make choices. To underscore this point,
aside from the long walk to the bathroom, I do it everyday. There
are no competitors, no one yelling me on, and the world does seem to be
elsewhere. And, yet I’m driven to do it. Why? I believe
it is my passion for work. It is usually the last thing that leaves
my mind at night and the first thing that comes into it upon waking up.
I love my work. I suspect if I didn’t the walk to my bathroom would
get the best of me. I know “loving one’s work” seems a bit strange.
I feel that way at times, too. But, after all these years, it is
exciting and I would not change my job for a million dollars. Really.
Do I understand that my feelings about work may be odd to others?
Of course I understand but, fortunately, I’m doing exactly what I have
always wanted to do.
I do not expect every person to walk down
the same path. I do not expect another person to have the same feelings.
It’s not hard to figure out why some teach, other are accountants, and
sill others are rocket scientists. It is about loving what you do.
It is the reason some people exercise more regularly than others.
They love to exercise. It is their passion. It is clear, in
retrospect, that if I loved exercise more than my job, I would get up at
with my wife and jump on the treadmill with her. This thinking is
no accident. It makes good sense. The reality is that my wife
probably does not love to exercise or work. She does both because
she understands that both are important for different reasons. The
decision to go to work after early morning exercise is fundamentally what
is smart. This is the kind of thinking that disciplined adults understand.
Not surprisingly, having several college degrees does not mean that a person
is smart. The implication, of course, is that I need to break the
roadblocks (like so many other adults) so that I can have a sense of mission
that comes from exercise as much as it does from teaching.
In summary, somewhere I heard that “this
day is dying – Tick, tick, tick”. This raises the question:
“What am I going to do with my life?” Aside from teaching, I’m going
to exercise….exercise….exercise! Perhaps, it is now appropriate
to quote Teddy Roosevelt:
“We’re face-to-face with our destiny.
And we must meet it with a high and resolute courage, for ours is the life
of action, of strenuous performance, of duty. Let us live in the
harness of striving mightily. Let us run the risk of wearing out
rather than rusting out.”
1. Boone, T. (2002). Exercise is
Therapy, Prevention, and Treatment: An Exercise Physiologist’s Perspective.
Professionalization of Exercise Physiologyonline.
Vol 5, No. 3 [Online]. http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/ExerciseIsTherapy.html
2. Boone, T. (1986). Exercise prescription
for cardiac patients: A review and reasons for concern. Sports Medicine.
3. White, T.P. (1993). The Wellness
Guide to Lifelong Fitness. New York, NY: Health Letter Associates.
4. Robergs, R.A. and Roberts, S.O.
(2000). Fundamental Principles of Exercise Physiology for Fitness, Performance,
and Health. Madison, WI: McGraw-Hill.