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A Couch Potato Gets Fit

After 38 sluggish years, I finally made exercise a habit.

Into the Woods

Finally, more than eight months after I moved next door to a redwood forest -- I tied the laces on my vintage sneakers and jogged into it. As I'd suspected, I often had to walk to soothe a cramp below my ribcage. Even as I gasped for air, though, I realized that my pounding heart was chasing away the jittery thoughts that usually inhabited my brain. I returned home surprisingly refreshed, and penciled "exercise" into my organizer for two days later at 4 p.m. When the time came, I remembered that vibrant calm and tried again.

Now my legs and my mind start to jiggle in the late afternoon if I haven't yet run. I often leave my house feeling panicky about deadlines or overwhelmed by concepts I don't quite grasp. My jog transports me to a different self: Percussive breaths drum a sense of steadiness into me and I find myself imagining springs on my soles that catapult me forward. By the end of my outing, I know that I can complete my tasks without trouble and understand anything necessary.

It's not always easy. Some days, headwinds make my eyes tear up and foil my efforts to move forward, or I feel exhausted before I start. The grime on the bathroom sink demands attention; the novel I'm reading beckons. I run anyway. By the time I lope out of the woods, after 30 or 40 minutes, I'm usually wishing that the trail extended further. Often I sprint to the finish.

Now I exercise because it feels good, not because it's good for me. But I wouldn't have realized that was possible until I learned how to lay down the stepping stones that connect contemplation with action. Maybe I can finally type goodbye to the days when my fingers leave the rest of me in the dust.

Evelyn Strauss is a science and health writer in Santa Cruz, Calif. The more she runs on the trails, the less she runs on her sentences.

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