Friday, January 23, 2015


It's been said so often that it's become a truism: diet and exercise. The real trick is in actually sticking with the program. When I started my weight loss journey, I took the route of vegetables and salads to replace my rice and other carbohydrates. But I knew I needed to couple it with a physical regimen.

The thing, though, was that I was suffering from cervical spondylosis. A disk between the bones of my neck had worn down or collapsed, an unfortunate effect of age. The disk impinged on the nerves, causing all sorts of pain and other strange sensations down the length of my arm (I've written about this in the past.) Physical therapy managed to mitigate its effects, but I have to be careful with strenuous activity.

I consulted my orthopedist to ask what I could do. As I expected, exercises which involved any form of physical shock were out of the question. That included aerobics, jogging, running, boxing, jumping, etc. So what options were available to me? As it turned out, my condition turned out to be a blessing in disguise, otherwise I might not have learned what I did.

"There are two kinds of exercise," the doctor said. "Cardio and resistance. With cardio, you're only burning the calories while you're exercising. With resistance, you continue to burn the calories hours after you finish."

Resistance, or strength training, usually meant weights. With the condition my neck was in, though, lifting heavy objects was also discouraged. What were my alternatives?

"Even a thirty minute walk helps," the doctor said.

I thought of the small swimming pool in the clubhouse of our subdivision. We had been living in our new place for a year and I had largely ignored that feature. "How about swimming?" I asked.

"Yes, swimming does the trick. The water reduces the impact to your neck. Or even just walking around in the pool. That also provides a lot of resistance."

That was a good thing. I didn't know how to swim.

The following week, I brought out my trunks and headed for the pool. I recalled my old swimming lessons and splashed around embarrassingly in the water. Fortunately, no one was looking. I couldn't even go the length of the pool without losing breath. Nevertheless, I persisted, even if it meant pausing in the middle. I would do three "laps" and when I couldn't even swim anymore, I walked around the perimeter of the pool. It all started in late January last year.

Here's the thing, though. I kept at it every day. The three "laps" became five. Not long after, I found I could traverse the length of the pool and then halfway back. Then I'd do ten rounds of walking in the water before going back to swimming. Sometime in April, my wife noticed that my shoulders had taken a different shape.

I still wasn't doing the proper laps, though, and I knew the problem was with my breathing technique. Like any other digital native, I went right to the source: YouTube. I looked up swimming videos and found what I ought to have been doing. I should have been expelling air while I was in the water; then when my mouth is above the water, the impulse to inhale will come naturally. I foundered the first few times, but then soon I got the hang of it. I was finally swimming right!

At the moment, my regular circuit is twenty laps. I've given up walking around the pool because swimming is just so much better. Granted, it's a small pool, just ten meters in length, but the twenty laps still translates to 400 meters. That's four laps on an Olympic-sized pool, without stopping. I like to think that I keep it at the twenty laps because I keep my exercise sessions to a little less than thirty minutes. One of these days, I'm going to try for just a bit more.

So really, this has become more than about weight loss for me. When I was younger, my classmates would make fun of me because I couldn't swim. Now, more than thirty years on, I've crossed that milestone in my life.