When it comes to exercise, I’m a Mark Twain kind of guy. At his 70th birthday party, feted by 170 people in the Red Room at Delmonico’s in New York City, Twain said, “I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; I was always tired” (The New York Times, Dec. 6, 1905).
Twain lived a few more years, dying at age 74. Seventy-four was a decent old-age in that era, and it would be hard to argue that Twain lived anything other than a rich, full, accomplished life. In some ways, he lived too long, for he outlasted not only his wife of 34 years, but two of his three daughters. Twain’s resulting deep depression may have hastened his own end.
Perhaps running wind-sprints up a sandy hill would have cured him, but I doubt it. Having come into the world with Halley’s Comet in 1835, Twain went out when the comet swung by again in April 1910, just as he’d predicted he would.
These days, given his attitude toward exercise, Mark Twain would be in the minority. Everyone believes in exercise now. Many even believe in regular and strenuous exercise. In the low-carb community, the Paleo/Primal folks are the biggest believers in exercise. They apparently even do a lot of it.
I believe in it, too, for other people. I believe you all ought to get out there and just do it. Jog down a muddy track with a log across your shoulders. Every couple miles, drop and do a hundred sit-ups. Then a hundred deep-knee bends.
Keep the log on your shoulders at all times.
Or like William Banting, you could try vigorous rowing. Banting was a once obese, retired British undertaker who self-published his low-carb diet booklet Letter on Corpulence in several editions in the 1860s. (Today, he’d just start a blog.) Before successfully losing weight by cutting starch and sugar out of his diet, Banting tried other approaches. For instance, he took the advice of “an eminent surgeon” and friend who “thought rowing an excellent plan.”
Banting owned a “good, heavy, safe boat” and lived near a river, so he went out every morning for a couple of hours of exercise. In terms of weight loss, the results were disappointing: “It is true I gained muscular vigor, but with it a prodigious appetite, which I was compelled to indulge, and consequently increased in weight, until my kind old friend advised me to forsake the exercise.”
Gary Taubes uses Banting’s example in his 2011 book Why We Get Fat to explain why exercise probably won’t help you lose weight. According to Taubes, a century of research has failed to show a causal link between working out and losing pounds. Meanwhile, the presumed link between exercise and a longer life still awaits rigorous testing.
However, as Taubes agrees, regular exercise can improve your looks, balance, strength and endurance. It can also make you feel better about yourself.
I’ll go along with those benefits. Of course, they come at a cost of time and energy that could be put to other uses, such as sleeping or reading or typing a blog post.
There is also the environmental impact to consider. For me, this is a big one. You don’t get any greener than Jim Anderson. I can’t justify building up my abs and my wind at the expense of tearing down the environment. There’s no doubt the environment will suffer. How so? Easy. If you workout, you sweat, which means that you need to change your clothes and shower more often than, say, a normal person like me. All that washing and drying puts a strain on the ecosystem like you wouldn’t believe, creating a carbon-footprint worthy of Sasquatch.
No doubt many in the Paleo crowd will be distressed to learn that they’re destroying Mother Earth herself with all their running, heaving, straining and stretching — but there you go. It’s the law of unintended consequences in action.
I suppose if I were younger I’d heave the log up behind my neck and go for a run, anyway. Mostly it would be to impress women. But at my age, impressing women is not something I think about.
I don’t have to. Impressing women comes naturally to us older guys. Take Mark Twain. According to The Times, a “particular feature” of his 70th birthday bash “was the strength of the feminine contingent” which consisted of women who “were all young and pretty.”
Some were even unaccompanied by a man. What do you expect? They were writers.
I’m sure the pretty, young authors weren’t there to squeeze Twain’s biceps.
But I’m also sure he would have let them.
I originally published this essay on another blog, Life After Carbs, in 2011. Given the literary connection, it also seems to belong here. It was never as popular on the other blog as my posts about almonds, avocados, and salmon patties.