Women have been analyzed and have had their psyches dissected to a fare-thee-well during the past decade, and every time the analyzer comes out with his or her conclusions one more pleasurable thing gets added to the long list of things we can't do anymore.
We can't smoke if we're pregnant because smoking can cause low birth-weight babies.
We can't work too hard or be too ambitious because that will make us too tired at night and we all know what that means.
We can't stay out in the sun anymore because that'll give us skin cancer and wrinkles. Alcohol also gives us wrinkles.
Finally, however, some researchers have some good news for women.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a report on Monday in New Orleans to the effect that most of us shouldn't do more than 30 minutes of moderate exercise every other day. Now, that's my kind of deprivation.
According to USA Today, which had the good news judgment to strip this momentous finding across the top of its front page, the report noted that women are being injured more frequently while jogging and engaging in aerobic dancing (as opposed to simple aerobics). The report recommends "a low-intensity workout, taxing the heart no more than 75 percent of its maximum." USA Today quoted a San Diego doctor as saying this kind of workout burns off more fat than the "high-key, injury risking routine," and furthermore, the cardiac benefits diminish after you hit the 75 percent level.
Anyone who has ended up with chest pains after doing the Jane Fonda workouts can attest to that. So can anyone who got chest pains watching the movie "Perfect." If that's what you have to go through in aerobic dance classes, go ahead, take the 10 years off my life.
I'll confess: My Jane Fonda workout book is covered with dust. I lost plenty of weight when I started smoking a couple of years ago and smoking cigarettes is infinitely more pleasurable than running around the neighborhood in a jogging suit at 6 a.m. getting frostbite. Of course cigarette smoking may shorten your life (which is why I quit).
Over the years, trusted friends have fallen like dominos into the fitness craze. One whose children are grown took up swimming three mornings a week. She now says things like: "Of course, I swim three mornings a week, so that might explain it." The "it" in question can be anything from a 10-pound weight loss to a miraculous improvement in her eyesight or the increased longevity of her manicure.
I have another friend who plays tennis. Constantly. She is a thin person who smokes and it is my secret theory that she believes that if she plays tennis constantly she will somehow build up resistance to lung cancer and be able to smoke until she is 90. She, too, has a tendency to explain personal changes in her body or psychic outlook by making mention of her tennis games. "Of course," she'll say, "when you play a couple of hours of tennis every day you develop incredible stamina." Still another friend has taken up walking and you have to trot to keep up with her.
Up until a couple of years ago, I used to wonder about the adult men and women I saw jogging around the neighborhood. They'd be out there early in the morning or running during the 7 o'clock news in the evening, huffing and puffing and looking strange. I attributed this to the fact that they were publicly engaged in an unnatural act. A couple of years ago, however, a lot of evidence started coming out about "runner's high." Now when I see a jogger I wonder if he or she is stoned. That would certainly make the ordeal more bearable.
Over the years that the fitness craze took hold, I gave fitness a lot of thought, especially every time I got winded carrying the laundry upstairs. I figured no matter what exercise I chose, it would take a minimum of an hour and a half a day to get psyched up for the experience, undergo the experience, and then get cleaned up afterwards. Furthermore, all those who had joined the craze ahead of me would be so much more accomplished at whatever fitness sport I took up that I would look hopelessly behind at being fit. Besides, who would chase after the children while I chased after youth?
Thanks to the new report, however, my dilemma with fitness is over. I don't have to choose a sport, a wardrobe to do it in, or invent excuses for not doing it. The report underscores one of the enduring truths of the human experience, which is that all good things should be done in moderation. Instead of being lazy, I'm just being careful. After all, too much fitness can be injurious to one's health.