For a long time, I have collected jokes about exercise. The comedian Red Skelton lived into his ‘80s. “People ask me if I exercise a lot,” he once said. “The only exercise I get is acting as pallbearer for my friends who exercise a lot.” Late-night TV host David Letterman claimed that he “pulled a hamstring during the New York City Marathon.”
“An hour into the race,” he added, “I jumped off the couch.”
Stand-up comic Wendy Liebman said it best: “I go running when I have to. When the ice cream truck is doing 60.”
I think I burned three calories just getting up to get those jokes from the file cabinet. Which, incidentally, makes my next sentence all the more astonishing: I have started walking in the park for exercise. On purpose.
I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. Most of my hobbies can be pursued from the recliner in my living room, and, when I really need to get moving, I switch to the swivel chair in my office. But maybe it’s time I took a little better care of myself.
So, two months ago, I got up one morning at 5:45 and headed over to Berryhill Park. It was still dark, but in August, the only time of the day when the Arkansas heat is bearable is before sunrise. According to a sign in the park, three times around the walking trail is a little over a mile. And, at least four or five days a week since then, I’ve walked a mile.
It didn’t take long to realize I would need some better shoes. The worn pair I’ve used to mow grass for the last 15 years just wasn’t cutting it. That’s when I headed to Fleet Feet in Little Rock, where the salesman had me stand on some space-age digital pad in order to measure my feet. I learned, for the first time, that one foot is slightly larger than the other. I also discovered that my arches are still in decent shape. The scanner even detected a piece of toe lint dated circa late June.
I tried on maybe eight or nine options but finally went with a pair of Brooks Ghost 12 shoes. I was told this brand was the most popular, and you know me, always on the cutting edge of everything. So, I paid for the shoes with cash, checked the time on my wristwatch, and got into my 1997 Camry to head home, listening to a Neil Diamond cassette tape on the way.
The next thing I discovered on this new walking regimen is how much trash people leave in the park. Since bending over to pick up candy wrappers and bottle caps technically doubles my exercise, I’ve become something of a walking janitor. The other day, I found a dollar bill, which I considered to be a tip from the parks department. I went home and immediately adjusted my monthly budget to account for the windfall.
You’d be amazed at how many cigarettes are thrown onto the walking trail. Now obviously I’m a novice at this whole exercise thing, but even I know that jogging and smoking cancel each other out. No, instead of taking a puff on a Camel Light, I go home after my walk and have a cream puff and a glass of milk.
In fact, this whole walking deal has given me remarkable freedom of conscience. I was eating cream puffs before, but back then, my diet was all deficit spending — usually in the recliner. Now, I’m walking a mile, picking up trash and burning calories like nobody’s business. So now when I have the cream puff, at least I’m breaking even.
A few other people walk in the park early each morning, and we wave to each other as we pass by on the trail. Often, they are outpacing me. In fact, my uncle says I should walk faster to get my heart rate up. But I keep telling him: I grade college essays for a living. My heart rate is always up. Last week, a particularly hideous dangling modifier nearly sent me into an arrhythmia.
People ask me if I’ve lost weight so far. The truth is, I have no idea. I won’t know until Jan. 1, since I only weigh myself once per year. Think about that — it’s genius. That way, if I gain a few pounds, I cannot possibly blame it on any particular meal.
Now that the temperature is dropping, we’ll see how long I can hold out walking in the park before sunrise. I’ve got my coat and gloves, and the Ghost 12s are insulated. But I’m keeping the swivel chair warm, just in case.