Feature Archive

A Couch Potato Gets Fit

After 38 sluggish years, I finally made exercise a habit.

WebMD Feature

May 22, 2000 -- Until four months ago, only my fingers exercised. For hours each day, they danced on the computer keys, while the rest of me slumped in my chair. For weight-bearing activity, I lugged chin-high piles of laundry to the washer every couple of weeks.

Oh, I got my heart rate up all right. Once or twice a month, I'd open an email attachment to find that an editor had transformed my carefully streamlined prose into strings of clunky prepositional phrases linked by plodding verbs. My pulse would race -- but I knew that wasn't what the experts meant by aerobic exercise.

I wanted to get moving. At 38, I suspected that my body could tolerate only so much more lethargy. My 80-year-old dad hikes in the Alps every summer. My 72-year-old mom swims a mile almost every day. They were in better shape than I was, and I was starting to wonder how I'd function at their age. I imagined myself leaning, gasping, over a supermarket cart after a stroll down the cereal aisle.

So what was my problem? I'm usually a self-starter: When I commit myself to something, I do it, even if it's difficult. Singing in public used to make me shake, for instance, so I forced myself to go to a piano bar every week and belt out a tune.

Yet I couldn't make myself exercise. "You have got to do something about this," I'd admonish myself, but to no avail.