The new year has arrived for both the Chinese and Westerners. This is the time for those familiar resolutions in which we vow to exercise regularly.
The famous joke in the United States is that Americans pledge to follow a regular exercise program on Jan 1, and by Jan 3, they are back to couch-potato TV watching and doughnut eating.
The Chinese have workouts down to an art, literally. I have seen the graceful tai chi exercises, which seem magical to me. Slow movements are not a part of American exercise (except yoga, which does have a following in the US). But the majority of Americans just pound the pavement, running or walking, becoming future candidates for knee-replacement surgery.
I am not a go-to-the-gym kind of person. I don't like smelling my own sweat, much less someone else's. Some people's perspiration has a benign smell, like lightly scented excess moisture. Other people's sweat smells like rotten potatoes. It is not a pleasant experience to encounter this smell on an exercise machine where you will be inhaling deeply for the next 30 minutes.
Gyms that don't have the body odor smell often reek of bleach that zaps bacteria but leaves you nearly gagging from the fumes.
I live in a 10-story building, which, courtesy of fire department regulations, gives me an at-home stair-stepper. I shut my apartment door and walk 20 steps to begin stair climbing. With my iPod music's encouraging rhythm, I climb up and down for 30 minutes. No cheating allowed.
The first few times, my leg muscles were aching. But training takes time, and now I navigate the steps fairly easily, deep breaths (OK, sometimes gasps) still accompanying my stair sojourns.
I rarely meet anyone on these jaunts, as 99.9 percent of the residents of my building take the elevator. I sometimes meet residents who live on the bottom-most floors, and I think I have frightened them with my heavy breathing in the stairwell. But then they quickly realize what I am doing. I smile a "pardon me," and they graciously continue their normal use of the stairs, making way for me as I deep-breathe past them.
On days when I am dying to go outside, I go to the China Daily courtyard, which is a beautiful circular pavement, surrounded by nice landscaping. I run round and round in circles, like a caged mouse or hamster.
Some of the Chinese must think I am crazy, but I don't dare run on the sidewalks of Beijing. I don't see any other living soul doing this, and plus I would probably sprain my ankle on broken pavements or from making a careless move when my tired ankles lose their intelligence.
Other times, I put my iPod in its dock and simply run in place in my apartment. Or dance. Or curl up on my bed in a pilates-type-move and kick my legs to the rhythm.
My one common denominator in all my exercising is my iPod. This little piece of magic is nearly solely responsible for my ongoing exercise habit. Without a beat, and without the music, my feet would be lost and unable to move.
I try to do one of these forms of exercise 30 minutes each day, and I have found the adrenalin theory really is true. Exercise makes you feel great, especially at the bargain price of zero yuan or dollars.