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August 13, 2004
It takes a little while before you begin to enjoy it again, if it's been some time since you've moved, but movement is our natural state, and we return to our animal selves in exercising. Our child selves. Once upon a time, we couldn't wait to get outside and play. We played all day, ran and jumped and hung upside down. In those days, our knees were more or less permanently skinned: most of us sported a bandage or a dark scab on at least one knee all the time. Many of us fell out of trees, breaking wrists and collarbones, and no doctor ever asked us what we were doing up in a tree.

Some of us kept moving. Most of us stopped almost completely, though, in honor of having survived our teen years. Got jobs at desks, in building with escalators. Bought cars and drove them everywhere. We didn't even have to roll down our own car windows, just pressed a button and our steering wheels could be turned with a finger. We didn't even have to open the doors of our supermarkets ourselves; they sensed our approach and swung silently open on their own.

And so it can be hard on us to begin exercise. We marshal an impressive number of reasons why, while exercise is important for everyone else, we ourselves can't participate. We recite our orthopedic woes, and don't believe people who tell us that exercise will lessen our pain from them. We tell of our tiredness, and don't believe people who tell us that exercise will give us energy. We tell ourselves that sweating is unpleasant. We are embarrassed by our slowness as we run, by our stiffness. We forget what we knew as children, that physical exercise is really playing. We've forgotten how to play.

But if we persevere past the first couple of weeks, we come to know that what our fit friends told us was true: that your back really does feel better if your abs are strong. That exercise really does help your arthritic knee; stay away from the gym for a few days and it begins to hurt again. That you really do have more energy if you move for half an hour somewhere in the course of your day, that you will be less tired, not more so. We begin to remember that it's fun to move around, fun to push ourselves, fun to try new things.

When can I go back to Curves, I ask the doctor. I ask that before I ask anything else. I want to feel the bounce of the platform under my feet, to feel my arm muscles pushing against weight. I even want to triumph over The Beast, that horrid squat machine that everyone hates. I want to hear the speeded-up disco music, to remember how silly the 1970s and 1980s were as I dance to their silly songs, unable -- no matter how silly they are -- to resist their rhythm. I want to feel the honest thirst for water halfway through the circuit, and the sheer cool pleasure of satisfying it.

I will go back as soon as I can, before any of those plausible excuses for not going begin their whispering campaign. A body at rest tends to remain at rest, and my body will be at rest for the next week or so. But a body in motion tends to remain in motion. I can't wait.
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