I’m not a great fan of physical exertion – but I’m learning to be. Over the years I’ve shied away from physical tasks I’ve found uncomfortable or challenging: cleaning the outside of the house, washing the car, pruning trees and hedges, chopping wood and cleaning ceilings.
This has been partly because I just didn’t like this kind of activity and partly because I’ve been busy, so paying others to do these things seemed a sensible use of time. If I’m really honest, I know it’s also because I’ve seen these physical ‘chores’ as less important and less valuable than pursuing more cerebral activities.
I am, of course, now reaping the results of my choices. I’m saddened to see how weak my upper body, in particular, has become over the years through lack of use.
This seems to be a particular issue as we age, as evidenced by the number of midlife women I know who’ve suffered through frozen shoulders or surgery to address rotator cuff injuries.
Yet it hasn’t always been this way. Up until recently, most women didn’t get to ‘retire’ from heavy household work until they could physically no longer do it.
At our local, family run fruit and vegetable shop, for example, I often see Mrs Loo (senior), now into her eighties, wheeling crates of vegetables back into the store as they close up for the night. Her son says they can’t stop her working. I can only guess at her motivation but her body is certainly stronger than most eighty year olds, given she is on her feet and working six days a week.
I saw an opinion piece recently that suggested that historically, the best and strongest rugby players in our national team have come from farming backgrounds and their strength on the rugby field was attributed to using their bodies all day, every day.
Our bodies are built to move and work. Yet in our modern day, tech-dependent world it is easy to avoid the every day physical exertion in preference to controlled gym environments where we go to ‘exercise’. I’m not suggesting one or other is bad – I’m just suggesting it shouldn’t be either/or.
Personally I’m becoming a fan of the philosophy at the core of Michelle Segar’s book ‘No Sweat’ – that every bit of exercise counts.
Now as I bring in the wood for the fire, take the rubbish out, carry the groceries, hang out the washing, weed the vegetable patch and contemplate cleaning the windows, I am approaching these everyday activities differently. I’m seeing them less as chores and more often as an opportunity to move my body, use my muscles and get stronger.
When did you last do a physically challenging chore that gave you that virtuous ‘I’ve worked hard’ muscle ache the next day?