The joy and pain of exercise

By Hugh Upsher

When I was in school, exercise was just one of those compulsory things like geography or mathematics. I did my weekly physical education session regardless of my interest level or ability to remember to pack PE shorts. Once I became an adult who could make my own choices, however, my relationship with exercise switched up. No one would ever force me to run around a sports field in the midday heat ever again, and that was surely a reason to rejoice.

The thing they don’t teach you in physical education, besides literally nothing, is how exercise can have a positive influence on other seemingly unrelated elements in your life. Once you get your blood pumping, it gives you that sweet hit of dopamine, and regular exercise is also proven to beef up your immune system. Getting physical is also a fantastic way to clear your head of distractions, or fill your head with inspiration, depending on your needs at the time. I just needed to find an exercise that wasn’t hellish to endure.

Team sports are sold as a cool way to incorporate social aspects into your exercise routine. You learn how to work with others and develop a healthy sense of team spirit. This hasn’t ever been true for me after never quite recovering from being repeatedly selected last as the shortest kid holding his older sister’s pink and lime green hockey stick. After sticking out eight more years of being the ‘i’ in team, I had the realisation that I also don’t like most people. When I left school I was more than ready to throw in my sweaty shin guards for good.

There is always the option of gym, but I’ve never really understood why gyms exist. Swimming is great but the pool is always crowded with children or grannies, both of which have long track records of poor bladder control. I like squash but that involves playing with another person – I might as well go back to field hockey. Then there are all the horror stories of old men openly blow-drying their balls in the changing room and the two-year contracts they make you sign using your own blood. Gym has never been my cup of green tea.

I have dabbled in the yoga and pilates arts but it is not nearly as relaxing as it looks. I’m all for sitting on the floor in kooky new ways but don’t make it hurt so much, and definitely don’t make me do it at sauna heat where people are flinging sweat across the room at every turn. I could definitely get into meditating but I’m not sure it burns off the calories at any significant pace.

My approach to exercise up until this point has been to treat the world as my gym. My current schedule includes activities like climbing up and down four flights of stairs twice a day, dancing like a lunatic at weddings and hitting the skate ramp twice a week after work. If I throw in some sporadic hikes and beach swims on the weekend, let's be honest – I’m pretty much headed toward the chiseled physique of an Olympic athlete.