Last week, I quit exercising. I stopped for a week. Other than climbing a flight of stairs and walking 15 feet to the car, I let it go.

Doing nothing doesn’t sound like a big deal. Doing nothing is what a lot of people do. Doing nothing, doing it well and not being in a hurry to do anything more can be an art form unto itself.

I’ve been in the exercise camp for more than 40 years. It is less a lifestyle than a life which is probably an indication that I should have built another life. However, life or lifestyle, we are destined to spend large swaths of our youth on something — establishing a career, helping people, becoming proficient on the saxophone — so why not run, jump and play?

People can take this exercise thing too seriously. Blow it up into a personal religion. Make it bigger than it really is.

A week away would be good for two reasons, the first being it would allow me to take a good, hard look at myself. How important was this to my identity because if it were more important than it should be, and I had become one of those people who are always talking about their workouts even when you hadn’t asked, then it might be time for a reboot.

I wanted a rest, too. People aren’t good at resting. Taking their foot off the pedal. Letting their muscles heal so they can have more fun when they resume and achieve even greater athletic heights in the amateur arena.

Doing nothing could be a chance for self improvement, an opportunity for rejuvenation and a second youth.

That was seven days ago. The results are in:

I’ve never felt worse. I feel like I’m going to die. If not die, get ready to die.

My legs are lead. Rest, I imagined, would allow them to magically repair themselves. Allow them to become springy again. Capable of going this way and that.

That was the idea, but that idea was a bad idea. A couple nights ago, we took two grandchildren to CALM to see the Christmas lights and ride the train.

“Papa, put me on your shoulders,” Andrew said.

“Put you on my shoulders?” It would be better if you carried me. My legs were stiff, my hip was throbbing and the prospect of hoisting a 2 ½ year old over my head, something in my exercise days I could have executed flawlessly, filled me with dread and almost made me physically sick.

Carry you? Carry yourself little man. Then when you grow up, come back for Papa.

My arms needed rest, too. A week off couldn’t do anything to make them ropy and unpredictably strong again.

Strong? I was plenty strong as long as I didn’t have to unscrew the top of a jar of chunky peanut butter, reach up and grab a glass out of the cupboard for cranberry juice or take out the recycling. I was like Charles Atlas unless he had to lift, carry or squeeze.

After a week, I not only hurt in the old places, I hurt in new ones, new places, I didn’t know were places.

Thank goodness the week wasn’t only about the physical but an opportunity to discover other parts of my personality. A chance for personal revelation.

Personal revelation? How about personal doubt? Personal who, what and why was I?

Two days in, I became sad. It was the movie “Pleasantville,” my world went from color to black and white. Black and white, then just black. Pitch black. The black that knows no light.

After day seven, I called it good. I did 20 pushups, albeit in four sets. They hurt but it was a different kind of hurt. Hurt that hurt but that felt good nonetheless.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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