Life's too short for exercise, studies show

MIKE LITTWIN

March 03, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The results on exercise are in, and the news is all good. According to a study by scientists, many with college degrees, if you're a middle-age male and decide to take up vigorous exercise, you can live up to 10 months longer.

Yes, 10 entire months.

In other words, if you get up every day for the rest of your natural life at 5:30, jog a few miles in your pre-dawn, day-glo, dressed-for-success best or climb on that damn exercise bike and pump till your legs threaten to move to another state, you won't die at age 87. You'll die at 88.

What does that say to you?

Right. It says: Junk the bike. It says: Pull up a chair, grab the remote and do a little tube time.

Ten months don't do it, folks. Five years, maybe.

If you're like me, you won't trade a lifetime of sloth for 10 measly months in some distant time, before which you may very well get hit by a bus anyway. (By the way, this runaway-bus theory -- put off everything distasteful until tomorrow because you might get hit by a bus tonight -- is the ruling principle of my life. For others, it's the meteor-is-going-to-strike-any-day-so-wha t's-the-point theory, but I like to keep things as unscientific as possible.)

Of course, if you're already 87, you might see the matter in a different light. If you're 87, then 88 is certainly an important goal.

But if you're 40, you're going to need a little more immediacy than this 10-month bonus you get after living another 40-odd years.

If you're like me, you need a deadline. For instance, if you don't exercise, you won't make it till lunch. That's an incentive. You'll run laps. You'll do toe-touches (well, knee-touches anyway). You'll even watch Richard Simmons, although that's obviously a closer call.

Now, there are people who exercise because they enjoy it -- something about a runner's high. That's what they say. I'm skeptical, unless you're discussing the rare kind of fun exercise.

Playing basketball is fun exercise. There's nothing better than a half-court (it's got to be half-court) 3-on-3, during which you scream on every out-of-bounds call (screaming is very aerobic) and after which you walk to the locker room to get a beer. (Opening the beer can -- you don't think that's gonna burn up some calories?)

There are other forms of fun exercise, but you can't really discuss them in any detail in a family newspaper. Besides, do I look like Dr. Ruth?

I have a friend who exercises for two reasons. Actually, they're the same reason -- women. He used to be your basic high school nerd who wore glasses so thick he could burn paper with them. So, he got some weights and before you knew it -- well, in about six years -- he developed these great muscles.

Now, he lives to flex. Ask him to pass you the salt, and he's got those biceps rippling like a belly dancer's middle. Apparently, there's a certain kind of woman who finds this exciting. He meets this kind of woman. A lot. Where he often meets them is at the gym, which has become a singles' bar for the physically fit.

I've been to gyms. A few years ago, and you may find this hard to believe, I signed up for aerobic dancing. It was all women and me. I wouldn't have been quite so self-conscious if I could dance, even a little. I was in the beginners' class, where everyone looked like Jane Fonda and moved like Michael Jackson. I lasted one day. Seems there was a rule against bringing a camera.

Recently, my wife bought me a stationary bike. This was a very sad day -- the day you realize you've joined the ranks of the youth-challenged.

A stationary bike, if you think about it, is the worst kind of metaphor. You pedal like hell and you get nowhere. This bike has all kinds of fancy equipment on it. It'll measure your pulse, your blood pressure and tell you when you should refinance your home. I pedaled for about a month. And then the study came out about exercise, and that was that.

Look, life is going to get you anyway. You read the papers. If it's not male-pattern baldness, it's second-hand smoke. And the latest killer is the rare hamburger.

Do I really want to live 10 months longer in a world where I go to a restaurant and all they'll give me is a hamburger medium-well because some weird bacteria is attacking us?

And to think, there was a time, in the early days of the Clinton administration, when I vowed to follow my leader -- and jog to McDonald's.

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