It was in 1985 while attempting to ski and smoke at the same time that I realized that if exercise's twain and my twain were ever to meet, it'd be in a dark alley and that one of us wasn't coming out alive.
Though friends say my attempt that snowy morn was hilarious (sort of an Alpine version of hari-kari), it was all the excuse I needed to give up, and for the ensuing 30 years I've lived with the motto, “You've got to show your body who's boss.”
And show it, I did, with oceans of alcohol, full firkins of drugs, cords of cigarettes and any food that didn't scream as I ate it. By the time I hit 40, I was convinced it was too late to do anything but wait politely until the flood of diseases I deserved dragged me down to a glutton's hell where I knew a cubby with my name awaited.
But last year I read an article in a smart and expensive magazine at someone else's home that taking up exercise late in life could be as predictive of longevity as a lifetime of healthy living. It seemed cruelly unfair, but fit nicely into the Universe's Plan as I had come to know it and also meant I still had time to play my cards right and become a burden on my family and society, just as I'd always planned. Huzzah!
I got healthy. I lost 75 pounds, going no-fat vegan and getting an imaginary Internet boyfriend to obsess over.
Newly not as fat as I used to be, exercise seemed the sad but inevitable next step. Girding my loins, I strolled around the neighborhood a few times only to learn that sunshine on my shoulder made me morbid and paranoid—I became convinced that all that moseying was gateway exercise leading straight to mall walking, which would lead to wearing clothes from the Vermont Country Store. So I had to stop.
I tried Pilates and yoga, both of which hurt in very healthy-feeling ways, but the room smelled like bicycle seat after a few minutes so I was forced to quit. Biking was a no-go from the start on account of the helmets so popular amongst the whippersnapperati, but which in my day would have led quickly to death by Purple Nurple.
Aside from the other knee-slapping changes age had visited upon my physique, the muscles I used to lift weights (that time in Akron) were now magically connected to my upper lip and caused an involuntary Elvis sneer whenever I lifted anything heavier than a Kit-Kat bar. My breasts were always too big to take jogging and now they were many other things that made strenuous activities like croquet impossible. That left me with a choice between swimming or badminton, only one of which would happen over my dead body.
Swimming worked. Swimming was everything that everything else was not and I got physical fast. Swimming made me feel strong, cured my back problems and allowed me to crumple empty cigarette packs against my forehead in a single bound.
But health, longevity, energy and mobility were trifles compared with the satisfaction I get when listening to friends who'd spent a lifetime exercising complain about their blown out knees and creaking joints. I get to say, “I haven't felt this good in 20 years”—and mean it.