Everything I Need to Know: Everyday Heroes and Heroines

AdviceIt’s true: the secrets to all of humanity’s mysteries are within romance novels. Srsly. Including where your keys are hiding. And your odd socks. 

Today’s letter is from Running Hard, who writes:

Recently I joined a gym, got in shape, and have joined a competitive cross coutnry team in my area. My husband is not as attentive to his physical health, and recently was told by our doctor that unless he changes his schedule to make room for exercise, he’ll have major problems soon from high blood pressure to diabetes. I know he needs to work out more. He knows it, too. The problem is, he doesn’t show any interest in doing it, no matter how many times I invite him to join me or ask him to take better care of himself. I’m at a loss as to what to do, and he’s increasingly grumpy and uncommunicative about it. What would you suggest?

Dear Running:

Consider the subtext of your letter: “I know better than he does what’s best for him.” When heroes display this attitude and behave accordingly, we call them alpha heroes and chuck the book at the wall. I’m not saying that if your husband jumps a fence too high you’re going to spank him, but you might want to reconsider how you’re approaching the issue. When heroines display too much alpha tendency, they can kick too much ass to the point that they are entirely unsympathetic and they cut off their noses with their katanas to spite their intriguing faces. Either that, or they alienate everyone around them, including the reader, by being irritating as hell. Confidence is good. Being in shape is good. Kicking ass is good. Presuming you know best because you got all three? Not good.

Examine the situation from your husband’s perspective. In this area, you’ve left him in the dust. Literally. You have an entire aspect of your life that he doesn’t share, and while that’s healthy and normal, you’re also telling him that he ought to join you – when that might mean you leave him in the dust again and again. While most men won’t mind watching the back end of a woman leaving (though they hate to see her go), your husband might be feeling left out, left behind, and just plain low about the entire situation.

So in essence, you’re right. But you might be losing ground in how you go about being right. My advice? Treat him like a hero. I’m not saying your husband is an alpha male to beat all chest pounding alpha males and can’t handle being beaten at anything by a woman let alone his wife, but he might need encouragement and admiration in equal doses, without condescension. Instead of examining the things that he’s not doing, focus on some of the things he is doing, and doing well.

But as for specific exercise, depending on your husband’s personality, he might benefit from a completely different activity that interests him, something solitary like biking or something group-oriented like a sports team. He might not like gyms and cardio machines, and prefer something outside. My point is that his choice has to be all about him – not all about you nagging him or telling him to model his activity on yours.

Furthermore, working out isn’t something that you’re done with. As soon as you finish, you have to do it again the next day, or the day after (much like writing a blog—huh. I have to look up how many calories this burns). So from his perspective, it might be an impossible obstacle. So give him space to figure out what might interest him, and quietly, gently encourage him to do things that might combine activity and tasks he enjoys.

Bottom line: his doctor has told him he needs to work out. You’ve told him the same and you’re doing it yourself. The ball, so to speak, is in his court. You can’t make him work out, or work out for him, and insisting, cajoling, or even delivering ultimatums means you risk emasculating him before he can get to the net.


General Bitching...

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  1. 1
    Mary Beth says:

    Excellent advice.. you have convinced me to get off the couch today and hunt down some turkey, my preferred mode of exercise.

  2. 2
    Suze says:

    I can only agree.  My roomie knows he has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.  He knows what to do about it.  The only thing I can do to help him is hide the sweets I bring home so they don’t tempt him.  He has to choose what to eat, how much to drink, and whether to exercise.

    Granted, he’s not my husband and therefore I have much less leverage to apply, and NO nagging rights at all.  Still.  Men.  They do like to maintain the illusion that they’re in control.

    Tee hee!  walked56!  No, that’s kind of the problem.

  3. 3
    CourtneyLee says:

    I’m in a similar situation with my husband, who prefers online RP games to getting up and excercising. His cholesterol is steadily rising. I find that if I frame requests in ways that enforce his big strong manliness (Honey, I can’t lift this. Can you help me?), he’s more likely to get off his duff.

    I do so love seeing lessons learned in romance applied to real life. This is a great one. :)

  4. 4
    lizbeth says:

    In my observation, it seems women tend to do things in order to exercise, men exercise in order to do things.  (As all observations go, this is influenced by the observer and the population I see: but there’s a lot of folks this fits.)

    What it means in practical terms is I walk because it’s the least objectionable way to get the exercise I need.  My hubby exercises with the youth group he leads because it lets him work with the kids.  He runs all over the field during reenactement season, because he likes shooting the cannon. 

    What does your hubby like enough to exercise to do it? 

    minutes 51—No, I don’t usually get that many minutes in per day (sigh)

  5. 5
    Ocy says:

    What does your hubbylike enough to exercise to do it?

    That’s really the key, isn’t it?  Like CourtneyLee, my husband’s a geek whose hobbies basically involve video games and RPs in particular.  He met up with a group that does Live Action Role Plays, though, and the swordfighting (along with whatever else they come up with) has actually helped.

  6. 6

    How about Wii? For a gentle start. From what I hear it has all kinds of exercising possibilities (yoga, hula hoops, skiing etc.), it records your progress and you don’t have to leave your own living room to do it. And hey, it’s not really exercise, it’s playing a video game…

    (I have no experience with it but possess a burning desire to try it. Dying here. Someone I know better get it soon!)

  7. 7
    Cat Marsters says:

    Wii is a great idea, especially if you can get your hands on a WiiFit.  Even the basic console comes with a sports program: baseball, boxing (way harder than it looks!), tennis and bowling.  You don’t have to work hard at them, but if you play like you would at a normal sport you can work up a sweat. 

    I know, because I hate normal sports (it’s cold outside and I’ve lost my sports bra, not to mention the scars from a sadistic gym teacher that still haven’t faded) and I’ll compete with myself on the Wii.

  8. 8
    Kaetrin says:

    Great advice bitches!

    I second the idea of linking the exercise to something he likes doing.  (I recently joined a gym – in fact, I am about to go there now – but it was my decision alone.  I don’t enjoy it.  I enjoy eating chocolate cake.  I am treating going to the gym like housework – don’t really like it but it gives me a sense of accomplishment and it has to be done so I may as well get to it).  To convince someone else to do something, I think more of a “carrot” would be required.

    If he likes games, then definitely try a Wii.  You don’t need the fit board to start.  The sports games like baseball and bowling are surprisingly active.  This is a start and it combines something he likes (playing games) with something you want him to do.  Also, you can do it together and he can kick your butt (at least occasionally!!).

  9. 9
    Leah says:

    Lizbeth is right on the money for this one!  Some other activities my geek husband (did we all marry geeks?) and his friends like are—golf (without the cart), airsoft, paintball and other shooting games, and fishing, esp. fly fishing.  Believe it or not, you find out you have to be fairly fit (and sober) to hike to those fishing spots, cast over and over, haul your gear and stand in a fast-moving current.  And with salt-water fly fishing, you have to be plenty strong to haul in your catch.  There’s also cross-country skiing and hiking, which can be more interesting than a treadmill.  And hunting—that require a certain fitness level, too.  Chasing a spazzy dog around works, too.

    Also—I myself am heavy.  I have medical reasons to lose weight, all of that.  It’s hard to get all my ducks in a row everyday to do what I am supposed to do.  I swear, if my husband were continually bugging me about it, I would feel hurt and unloved, not encouraged and supported.  It’s weird, but that’s how it works.  My SIL has a similar problem—her husband nagged her about it, and she found ways to get fatter and fatter just to spite him.  She has begun taking better care of herself, but it came from within her, and not as a result of him finally saying the magic motivational words.  Oh, and btw, sex can give him a good cardio workout!

    spam word—table74….use the table for sex, not food!

  10. 10
    Denni says:

    I’ve been on both sides of this issue.  Unfortunately, nagging won’t help.  Lots of good advice about excercise he might enjoy.  My hubby is very supportive, but when it just wasn’t working, it just made me mad and more depressed. 

    IMO the other advice, about positive reinforcement in other areas is spot on.  We do much better when I apply this to my spouse, a real turn around.

    Good luck, and best healthy wishes!

    Become 51…no, no, not yet!

  11. 11
    Avocado says:

    Everyone has different ways into this, and I’ve found a lot of people are more discouraging that encouraging when it comes to exercise—“Oh, you’re exercising.  Huh.  Are you doing it 30 minutes a day, daily?  Oh, well.  You should work on that—and get it up to an hour a day if you can.  Are you lifting weights, too?  No?  Better fit that in.”  Talking about exercise habits turns into constantly being told you’re not doing it right; it’s very frustrating.

    In the interest of providing useful suggestions…

    Since the Wii has been mentioned as a possibility, I’ll say that I lost quite a bit of weight playing Dance Dance Revolution.  I liked being able to see my improvement and feel like I “won” when I got a particular grade on a song on higher difficulty levels.  I exercise pretty much daily, but if I had to go to a gym or go running, I’d never do it at all.

    My husband’s not very good at exercising regularly on his own, but he has a personal trainer he visits once a week.  He’s also tried a treadmill—set up to point at the television—and watching shows either on DVD or off of TiVo as he walks.  That works out—as long as he’s really interested in the show.

  12. 12
    willaful says:

    I did great with Dance Dance Revolution too.

  13. 13
    SonomaLass says:

    Yes, DDR and Wii are both good for getting off your butt a bit.  Fun, challenging, and not “an exercise program” (what a turnoff).

    Beyond that, I think you just have to be supportive AND accepting.  His body, his health, his life.  Not yours, even if you made some vows to share. 

    With my partner, it is COPD (lung disease); he used to climb mountains, and now he can barely walk from the car park to the beach without stopping to catch his breath.  It is sad to see him so limited, and of course I wish he had made some different lifestyle choices along the way to prevent this condition, BUT…I love the man, which is where the care and concern stem from, and I learned early on that expressing the care and concern can completely obscure the love.  It’s not like he doesn’t KNOW; of course he does, but he needs my unconditional love a lot more than he needs my nagging.  As would I, in his place.

  14. 14
    moom says:

    Yeah, I think the commenters above have it right in that it’s not a masculine pride thing, it’s more to do with the fact the nagging method is negative, it’s not ‘hey why don’t we go have a walk together ‘cause it’s a beautiful day’ it comes out as ‘you’re fat/unsexy/out of shape, do something about it’. No one likes that, especially from a loved one.

    I totally agree with the Wii and chime in with another vote of support for Dance Dance revolution (the Euro version is Dancing Stage: Hottest party). I work in an office after several years in retail where I was constantly chasing about tidying things up and my vanity won’t allow me to put on any more weight than I already have, but going to the gym after a full day of invoicing? Sometimes it’s just not possible.  Thirty to forty-five minutes dancing around like an idiot is fun and it makes me feel virtuous as I’ve got a sweat on.

    At weekends I go out for walks with my family and use it as an excuse to actually spend quality time talking to them. We get exercise, but we’re also having a nice time instead of sitting on our backsides watching the telly all weekend.

    (Spam-filter? Bed65, on a day like this I could happily go back to bed.)

  15. 15
    Venus Vaughn says:

    I can’t help but think of the anti-hero who spends the months before the book started telling the heroine that she’d be so much better if she only did / was X.  And the heroine internalizes it and alternately feels like crap or seethes silently about how he treats her.

    And then, the clouds part, the angels sing and the hero swoops in and shows the heroine that she’s wonderful just the way she is.  Interestingly, what happens then is that the heroine basks in the love she has received and becomes even more beautiful (on the inside, where it actually matters).

  16. 16
    Anj says:

    I’m going to have to agree with most of the posters above.

    I’ve spent time on both sides of the issue. It was my parents who did the “nagging” about my weight. I love them and I know they love me and they’re worried about me. And I did just about everything I could to get around them without outright refusal. I lied about exercising, or planning to. I ate food after they’d gone to bed or waited until they’d left the house. I would eat badly when out with friend and purposefully eat better when out with them.

    But eventually I decided I wanted to change for myself. That I needed to get in shape and loose weight. Not because my parents or the doctor said so, but because I felt I needed to. Now I actually go to the gym. I work out without prompting. I chastise myself for cheating (when it happens) and celebrate my successes.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that support is much better than nagging. If he can find something he likes that includes exercise, great! If you start to fix more vegetables and healthier meats, that’s great too. But telling him and reminding him to exercise might just make him get more crafty about rebellion. The change has to come from him and not just you.

  17. 17
    Brenda says:

    I think I’m one of the rare breed of female gamers who will sit around for hours and play an MMORPG (I suppose the way other people will sit in front of the TV for hours). My personal solution is to treat the mindless fun stuff like junk food. It’s more enjoyable if you only get a little bit now and then anyways. I feel crummy when I have too much vegging out / junk food / gaming anyways, and I eventually have almost a craving to do something else.

    Maybe this is a stereotype, but it seems that men are generally not as in touch with their bodies as women are, and are more likely to follow habit rather than to say ‘I don’t feel like eating greasy nachos; I’m craving celery sticks.’ (Yes, seriously, I do crave green crunchy fresh veggies sometimes.)

    I don’t know how to get a person in touch with that side of themselves, but nagging won’t do it. They have to want to do it, and maybe with men there’s more of an element of ‘if I start trying to get into shape I’ll just be comparing myself to men who are in better shape, so what’s the point?’ keeping them from starting.

    (P.S.: Wii Fit is a blast. I’ve seen people play Wii tennis just sitting on the couch and flicking a wrist, but it’s much more fun when you get up and dash back and forth in front of the sofa. The other games aren’t as good for exercise—baseball is hysterically funny, but the nunchuk thing is not meant to rotate in your hands like a bat, and I hurt my wrist swinging it.)

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