The ‘Virtue’ of Avoiding Exercise

Due to the problem in my left chest I described last week, I’m avoiding unnecessary physical activity.

Well, not quite. I’m ‘cheating’ a little with physical activity, which isn’t strictly necessary.

(I’m lucky that I don’t depend on physical labor to pay my bills.)

I live in a culture in which ‘exercise’ is a ‘virtue’ as long as it’s not for low-prestige jobs. (Meanwhile, the physical work, for example, people who pick crops on farms, is devalued, though we eat the literal fruits of their labor). People reinforce the message that getting more exercise is virtuous, whereas not exercising is a weakness we often fall into due to our relatable flaws. We conflate health with morality, and getting more exercise is ‘healthy.’

It’s weird to be in a situation where avoiding exercise is what’s best for my physical health. That slipping in some exercise just for pleasure feels like ‘cheating.’

I feel the difference. When I avoid physical activity for a long stretch of time, my chest feels almost normal. If I weren’t paying close attention, I wouldn’t notice anything off. But when I make my muscles do something vigorous… it’s a gamble. Occasionally even walking to another room is enough to set off discomfort in my left chest (it is still ‘discomfort’ rather than ‘pain’ thank goodness). That fades fast, thank goodness.

Sometimes, I can get away with a 15 minute walk with only a slight increase in the intensity of… whatever is happening in my left chest. But after walking about 20 minutes one time, I felt a substantial increase in the oddness of my left chest. It lasted for over and hour after I stopped walking.

My heart—my literal, anatomical, beating heart—is warning me to not exercise.

I’m used to being a physically active person. The endorphin rush is a major part of how I keep myself in good cheer. Beyond that, it’s part of how I see myself, as someone with energy who can get up and do something physically demanding when I want to.

I hope this is temporary.

I’m tempted to push past my limits, to exercise as much as I feel like. I can. I can ignore the weirdness in my chest and exercise as much as I please. That’s what I did when I was in denial. But that’s bad for my physical health in the long term.

I need to heal from whatever this is first. If this is myocarditis—which I believe it is—a sedentary lifestyle (plus a low-sodium diet and abstinence from alcohol) is what I need until my heart recovers.

Meanwhile, conventional chatter continues online… people joke about how they should eat less and exercise more for the good of their ‘health’ and they keep putting it off.

Is this what it’s like to be old and frail? To have a body which no longer does what it once did, to be restricted to fewer choices to extend the life which is left?

***

When I walk, I savor it more. What I once considered a mindless errand is now a treat, for it gives me permission to exercise. If I keep the walk short, and if I walk slowly, I’ll feel okay afterwards—most of the time. Slowing down, appreciating every step, has made me wonder again about my surroundings.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Virtue’ of Avoiding Exercise

  1. I know that you are carefully calibrating the balance between the risk of catching a virus by going to the doctor versus the risk that your chest issue is more serious than mild myocarditis. I am rooting for you to get this checked out. I wonder if you have access to info about current transmission rates in your area. That information is readily available here where I live (but then, the CDC is headquartered in this county). In your post about your decision not to go to the doctor (for now), you discuss the doctor’s protocols, but not the current case load where you live, which is why I wonder. Covid case numbers here are quite low, though flu and RSV are both rampant and nasty.

    Having lost a close friend whom I considered the older sister I never had to an undiagnosed aortic dissection (her father had died the same way), I have a strong emotional bias towards finding out what’s going on. But of course I have no standing here, just a little “Leave a Reply” box to type in, which makes me feel I’m entitled to say all this.

    From a different perspective, I know you have options, and that you’re deciding mindfully. So many of our fellow humans have neither of those factors working for them. Good luck! I’m rooting for you.

    • I’m seriously considering booking an appointment at that clinic which seems to have the best covid protocol. Even if it takes months, a followup would be good. That’s recommended for myocarditis after symptoms disappear just to make sure the myocarditis is really gone. If the symptoms haven’t disappeared, that would be all the more reason to go.

      As far a local transmission rates… according to the wastewater data, they are shooting up rapidly (double two weeks ago).

      My uncle almost died of an aortic dissection last year (he got the surgery just in time). I doubt that’s what’s going on here. If it were, I’d already be dead. I can’t rule out that I have an aortic aneurysm (the prelude to an aortic dissection) but that is less likely than myocarditis.

      I also want to avoid the flu if this is, in fact, myocarditis, since that is also a viral infection.

      Thank you for rooting for me.

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