Exercise has come a long way, baby

Prairie Wool

Helen Row Toews

It was as I rounded a corner at work, shortly before closure, that I noticed a teacher hunched furtively outside her classroom door, sternly addressing her upraised arm. She stood alone and held no phone, yet for some reason spoke earnestly to a thick black band strapped to her wrist. How peculiar. Had this woman taken leave of her senses? Gone around the proverbial bend? Felt compelled to re-enact an episode from the 1960s secret agent parody, “Get Smart”? Without the cone of silence and a good dose of truth serum, there was no way to know.

Until I asked her, of course. Turns out my friend Gwen was dictating a text to a device that not only tracks her physical activity, monitors her sleep quality and heart-rate, but also links to her cell phone so she can send and receive messages. Sheesh.

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With all the recent hoopla over measuring fitness, I downloaded a cell phone app too. First day of use, I lay groggily in bed, the covers tucked under my chin while I consulted the time on my phone. What the heck? I’d just received a congratulatory message for taking 180 steps prior to 6am. But I hadn’t even crawled out of bed!

Then later, as I pulled my bus up to the school, I received another admiring text for taking six thousand steps before breakfast! How unreliable was that? It had counted every blessed bump on the road.

When I was young I would fling myself around the living room with Jane Fonda and her bevy of cheerful companions to get a workout. No one counted steps back then, as I staggered heavily across the carpeting. It was all I could do to slog along to the end of the video without collapsing, let alone track how far I went, or how many calories were burnt.

Mostly I tried to exercise in private though, as Dad was quite cynical over the relationship between Jane and myself. He didn’t have much use for such a “foolish waste of energy.” To him, only an absolute nut would peddle a bike suspended in mid-air, or walk endlessly on a treadmill going nowhere fast.

“Get outside and really accomplish something,” he’d shout.

He had strong opinions on weight lifting, too.

“You wanna build your muscles?” he’d bark irritably, “I’ll give you weights to lift, by golly! Go put in a hard day’s work pickin’ rocks or haulin’ bales.”

He’d wave a dismissive hand toward Jane who leapt spritely about on the nearby TV screen in designer tights and top-quality fitness shoes.

“Bah! She wouldn’t last five minutes with me.”

Of course, not every farmer thinks likes him. I knew a man in Manitoba who farmed several thousand acres. Without fail, he’d wake up bright and early every morning and drive to town before sunrise in order to work out at a local gym. He was dedicated. One day, his wife complained to me about it over coffee.

“Sure, it’s great he goes every day,” she stated flatly, “but I tell you he won’t even walk twenty steps to the tractor shed. Has to ride the damn quad. Does that make sense to you?”

It’s true the world has changed, and not just with exercising. Have we come a long way? You tell me.

Helen has lived on the family farm near Marshall much of her life. She works as a writer, EA and bus driver for her local school. This, along with her love of the Canadian prairies, travel and all things humorous, is what she draws from to write these tales. To find more of Helen's stories or to order Prairie Wool books please go to myprairiewool.com or Amazon.ca 


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