I have a dear friend who struggles with her weight. Exercise is hard for her, but she doesn’t quit. She rides her bike longer and up steeper hills than I find comfortable. She swims a whole lot. She walks the extra mile. Still, she never really considers herself a cyclist, a swimmer, an exerciser. “That doesn’t count,” she says. “I’m way too slow and clumsy. If anything, I hide the fact I try to exercise at all. I dabble, at best.”
But, you see, I don’t think that’s true. Some weeks she puts a whole lot more effort in her exercise regime than I do. Some weeks I’m just lazy or too busy (or lazy) to move my behind. But I still consider myself a runner, even if I haven’t run for a month.
I think a book I read some ten or so years ago made my mind up for good. It was “The Complete Book of Running for Women” by Claire Kowalchik. There was an essay by Dawson Winch. She told how she struggled with calling herself a runner and decided once and for all that she would consider herself that. Even though others look more like runners. Even though others run faster. You run, so you’re a runner. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best or the slowest. You run, so you’re a runner.
This phrasing is more important than we might think. A study by Alia Crum and Ellen Langer suggests that healthy life-style and exercise is as much about self-awareness and self-evaluation as about calories in/calories out.
84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.
So there you have it. Next time someone asks if you exercise at all (a doctor or perhaps a gym instructor), don’t confuse modesty with self-depreciation, and say it like it is.