Weight loss, increased muscle mass, improved mood, more energy, better sleep—these are the often-touted benefits of exercise. And they are of course, true. But there’s a hidden benefit that gets lost in the shuffle. And for me, it’s the reason to do it.
Last weekend, we joined a group of friends at Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Virginia.
Since we were on the lake boating activities dominated our days, especially tubing—being dragged behind a boat at 25 mph on an inner tube. This is surely a punch line to the Jeff Foxworthy joke, “you might be a red neck…,” but we love it anyway.
A seasoned tuber myself, I know that the secret to staying on the thing is balanced weight. (I learned this through years of battle with my father on Clark Hill Lake in Georgia. As the driver of our boat my father’s goal was clear: throw me off the tube, by whatever means possible. My goal: stay on, do not let him win. He always won. Turns out no matter how young and stupid you are, the combination of a 50 hp motor sending the tube, and you, sideways into the wake of a cabin cruiser will always toss you off. In dramatic fashion.)
Even though my father wasn’t driving our boat this past weekend, all drivers have the same evil sense of purpose. As I watched my two daughters climb on the tube, Amanda my soon-to-be fourteen-year-old and Janelle my eight-year-old, it was clear the tube was going to capsize. It leaned dangerously to the left, toward Amanda. There was only one solution. I climbed aboard as well, sandwiching Janelle between Amanda and myself.
Asking our friend Joe, the driver, to please take it easy on us we bounced over the boat wake, careened around corners as he turned the boat and squealed with delight and fear. But we didn’t fall off. (Ah, the beauty of a balanced tube. And a nice driver.)
Our ride ended, Janelle climbed aboard the boat, but Amanda and I stayed on for a more extreme ride. We soared across the wake and bounced through the waves, our arms straining the keep us on the tube, our legs flailing about skimming the surface of the water. Amanda laughed while I screamed like Janet Leigh in the movie Psycho.
Joe couldn’t toss us either.
Later that day I continued my daredevil behavior, opting to ride a jet ski with my friend Mike at the helm. More wake jumping and screaming ensued.
Finally, as an end to the day, I tried water skiing. In my youth I could slalom ski—use only one ski. But that was years ago. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot. To my delight, I popped up behind the boat (on my second try) on one ski. Hallelujah! Cutting back and forth across the wake I felt fantastic. Then my legs turned to jelly, my arms started to burn and I slammed into the water, face first.
I immediately resurfaced, threw up my arms and screamed, “YEAH! I DID IT!”
And that’s my point to this long story. I did it.
Did my muscles ache afterwards, of course, but not excessively.
I know there will come a day when my body really can’t do the things I want it to do, but with consistent exercise I plan on pushing that day as far out into the future as possible.
Your goal may not be to water ski, but being able to carry bags of groceries up the stairs or a sick child to bed are also possible when your body is strong.
It’s the ability to accomplish these every day activities that are the hidden benefits of exercise.