My kids will tell you that when they were in college I would often call to see how they were doing. Did I ask about classes and studies? Nope. How about friends and dates? Heaven forbid. School sports? You are kidding, right? No, if you polled my children, they will tell you I said, “Are you getting enough exercise?”
Why this odd question? Because I firmly believe that if you do not take care of your body, than you cannot take care of your mind. Success in life springs from physical wellness and while that has a lot to do with what you eat and drink, it has everything to do with regular exercise.
Now, I hope, my patients will tell you that I ask them the same question, because physical activity is vital for them. Exercise prevents or delays almost every medical problem and being in shape, along with ongoing physical activity, is vital for recovery. I must ask this question at least occasionally, because it occurs to me that in response I have heard every excuse in a very thick book.
The basic retort is that “I am too tired.” This one burns my buns. Of course, you’re too tired, you don’t exercise! This is like a man who complains that the car doesn’t run because he hasn’t filled the tank. Exercise takes away fatigue, and if you do not exercise, you will be tired. With exercise, the quality of life is stronger and brighter. You sleep better and deeper, you are calmer, and you are more focused, you eat better. In addition, I do not believe that short of absolute exhaustion, your body cannot move through a simple routine such as walking, jogging or biking. It is never too late or early in the day to exercise.
“The weather is too cold.” “The weather is too hot.” “Too wet.” “ Too dry.” Sand storms and petulance. These reasons not to exercise pretty much cover every occasion because everyday has some sort of weather. The problem is that your body does not care. Your gut does not check the weather and say, “gee, it’s raining, I guess I won’t get fat today.” Every day you do not exercise, you lose opportunity, you lose strength, you lose endurance; in short you lose. As an average husband who hates to shop, I have found a great use for Shopping Malls on terrible weather days … Walk! Weather forced you inside? You can buy a treadmill or stationary bike cheap, but I am of the belief they do not work unless actually used.
“I get bored when I exercise. “ Well, I have to admit, some days that is true. Like brushing our teeth, washing our cloths or cleaning house, tasks we have to repeat everyday can sometimes lack excitement. On those days I ask myself, “this is boring, but would I rather be bored for 40 minutes exercising or bored for years sitting in a wheelchair after a stroke.” We fool ourselves when we think we have a choice. We do not. Exercise or become decrepit, frail and die.
“I am too busy. “ To which I answer, “No, you are not.” To be too busy means that you have made the choice to fill your days with non exercise activities. Now, sometimes it is true that overwhelming demands of life suck up all of your time, but that is not true all the time. In almost everyone’s life, there are 30-45 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week (that is as little as 0.9% of each week) that you can take to exercise. When we say we are too busy we are making a decision and it is a decision that our bodies will never forgive.
Recently this whole issue was made clear by the honest and accurate excuse of a 58-year-old woman, being treated for heart disease, diabetes, and degenerative arthritis and now seeing me for early stage breast cancer. She explained convincingly that she could not possibly exercise because, and I quote, “I have so many doctor visits, I don’t have time to exercise.” Enough said. Turn off that computer and go for a jog.
As published in Sunrise Rounds.
James C. Salwitz, MD earned his medical degree from the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He completed his Oncology Fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, NIH and joined Central Jersey Oncology Center in 1987, where he continues in the private practice of Medical Oncology. Dr. Salwitz is a Clinical Professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School where he teaches Physical Diagnosis, The Business of Medicine, Preventing Malpractice and Death & Dying.
Dr. Salwitz lectures frequently in the community on topics related to Oncology, Coping with Cancer, as well as Hospice and Palliative Care. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Physicians Leadership Award in Palliative Care, which he received from the New Jersey Palliative Care Organization. Dr. Salwitz is a past County President of the American Cancer Society. He is certified in Internal Medicine, Medical Oncology, and Hospice & Palliative Medicine.
I am a medical oncologist with a career-long interest in the relationships of patients and doctors to the medical system, especially around end of life issues.