Getting going

I have been running, at the gym. Not really running proper – no heaving weight from foot to foot, launching into air then landing heavily, crunching knees. I use the elliptical apparatus, so never leave the safe, circulatory pedals. No flights of flesh, no hard landings.

I remember running as a child, so light. Then, it felt like I could – if I tried just a little harder – leave the bounds of earth and zoom above the trees and houses. Now, I am leaden. I trundle and stagger like a hippopotamus. So, no – no actual running, at least until I am light enough to take flight for a single stride.

But ellipses suit me, it turns out: fluid, continuous, sinuous. Nothing left behind, the road (pedals, anyway) rising to meet me. I make an effort, of course, but it doesn’t hurt. To be recommended.

The first time, in early January, I set the clock for three minutes. I’d thought that was a ridiculously little time, but wanted the opportunity of deciding, later, to go on for another minute, then another. Three minutes turned out to be at my absolute limit. Halfway through I felt like giving up, my stomach rebelling. I kept going, and at the end of the time – panting, red lights flashing warnings about my heart rate – the machine offered another minute to “cool down”. I couldn’t face it, dismounted, and was nearly sick. The strain on my heart of this sudden effort, the unusual movement, the incapacity of my leg muscles, all combined to stop any further exercise. Slowly, and with care, I went unsteadily via the changing rooms into the steam bath, lay down, and pulled myself together again.

A few days later I tried again, then again every few days, upping the resistance, increasing the time. Now, in early March, I can run – elliptically – for twenty minutes without my heart rate going into the red, and without collapsing. Most days now I feel I could go on longer, but the gym asks people to limit their time to allow everyone a chance on the machines.

What has this to do with memory? I don’t know, but I feel less vacant, as if I meet fewer pockets of mental absence, as my body’s sense of integration and fitness to meet the world is increasing. I don’t think it’s a cure for memory loss, but running – even elliptically, without impact, without increasing muscle mass, not even losing much weight – is better than waiting to find out if sitting around is worse.

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