Good Morning World: How (and Why) to walk 5 kilometres indoors

Monday was a disappointing day. A disappointing, disappointing day. All I did was 2.1 and that’s way below my average, way way below. And it wasn’t even a weekend.

But let me start at the beginning. Every individual has an internal logic on various matters that they would have built since childhood, and they would have come to some decisions about life, living, learning, health, well-being … as also fitness.

I have never been into ‘fitness’. Never. As in: there’s been no phase in my life where I was watching what I eat, pumping iron or steel, dancing to music to tone muscles, or walking round and round and back around to address a health issue, perceived or otherwise.

Nor have I ever been a gym member.

Well, once – or rather, one day in 1988 – my friend Satyan and I did walk into a gym near our colony in Santacruz, Mumbai. The then Mr Mumbai University was in that gym (great guy, also happened to be a family friend and lived in our colony). We looked at the toned muscles of everyone around which – while extremely impressive – did not distract us from the hard, physical labour that seemed to be required to get those results. The instructor told us to do 20 push-ups each. I think we gave him 10 between us with a take-it-or-leave-it exhaustion and he took it and asked us to do 10 pull-ups each. To which we responded with 2 – Satyan did 1 pull-up and I did the other one. We walked around a bit after that, flexed our forearms on a contraption and then we left, telling the gym owner we would think about joining.

Satyan and I were satisfied with our visit to the gym and being quick on our feet, we looked ahead a few years and the decision was quite unanimous: there was no way either of us could sustain that kind of hard labour for no apparent reason (part of my internal logic).

That was the only day I have ever spent in a gym for deliberate exercise.

It’s not that I am reckless with my health. I played cricket and football and badminton and when there was no one to play with, ran around any available space at a clip for hours – every day … and that’s how I stayed healthy: sports. So while I couldn’t do 5 Pull-ups in a gym, I was a rock climber, and dangling a few hundred feet above bleak Himalayan rocks always gave me a rush and a natural motivation to haul myself up to the top on fingerholds.

If it wasn’t fun, I didn’t see the purpose of the hard work. Just as I didn’t see the purpose of being on a treadmill, walking 20 kilometers and not going anywhere. Plus, I have a natural-born morbidity that always makes me ask: will I be able to do this when I am injured or crippled or older or closer-to-death-but-not-quite-there-yet?

In the recent two decades, I have had less opportunity for sports so I have been walking daily and also mountain-walking three or four times a year. Last year (2019) I did only one trip, that too early in January. Till June, July there was hope there maybe another trip. But by October it was clear that I wouldn’t be doing another one till 2020, so in November, I started monitoring my daily walk.

I walk a good bit every day because I enjoy walking, enjoy feeling the muscles at work, and out of sheer habit I walk with my whole body, stretching the muscles in my neck, shoulders, arms, chest, back, gluts, hamstrings, calf, feet and extending my joints, pushing them to do a little bit more than they are capable of.

The Health App on my phone tells me the kilometers I walk every day, the number of steps I took. In general, I know the approximate distance I have walked from the fatigue or tenseness in my muscles. But the App helps me set and monitor a goal: to walk a daily average of 5 kilometres in 2020. (2019 was 3.6). I am in the fourth month of the year and so far am averaging 5.1, which isn’t bad but it’s dropped from the 5.3 I was at before the coronavirus lockdown began.

A few days ago, a friend asked me how I am walking 5 kilometers indoors, so here’s the long answer: I am a restless person and thanks to a few health conditions, I am incapable of sitting in one place or one position for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. So I get up and walk from one room to the other, or pace around the room or walk the terrace when am on calls. (This is normal behaviour for me, even in office or at home in regular, non-lockdown situations. It drives people mad and some have even asked me to stop pacing because it makes them dizzy!)

Calls are great for walking because I can walk 1-1.5 kilometres on a single call. A client call could give me 3 kilometres. The constraint of space is in the mind. Since the lockdown, I have set a routine and milestones, exactly as I would on a trek or a village to village walk – a kilometre before 9 am, another before noon, two more during evening play time with the children and so on.

But here’s the answer to the question that my friend wanted to but didn’t ask. It’s not about the walking really. Nor is it about keeping occupied or focused or sane. Being a restless person, I learned the hard way that the mind will keep me awake for days on end if I engage it all the time. It thrives on meaningful engagement. Which is what reading books or watching Netflix or interesting work does to me. The body must be tired and overworked beyond its daily capacity for my mind to switch off. And that’s what a day has always been about for me: to work mind and body to 10% beyond what they did yesterday. Any given day. Good day or bad day. That’s the focus.

Good Morning World. Even on disappointing days, it’s important to leave it all behind and get a good night’s sleep.

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