Healthy Gamer

Healthy Gamer: Why Working Out is One of the Nerdiest Things You Can Do

“Exceptional Strength improves the character’s chance to hit an enemy, increases the damage he causes with each hit, increases the weight the character is able to carry without a penalty for encumbrance (see below), and increases the character’s ability to force open doors and similar portals.”  – AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook

If you’re embarrassed to be seen exercising, stare at this picture for a while.

(Editor’s Note: I was totally jazzed about the idea of there being two Healthy Gamer installments today, but mine didn’t come together in the wake of GenCon preparation. Which is to say what did come together was an absolutely incoherent mess. I will update the Captain Hammer Project next week with a “how I kept the fire alive at GenCon” post. In the meantime, Chris knocks it out of the park. Enjoy! -JB)

When I was a teen way back in the 90s – take it in, I’m old – a bully named Tony introduced me to weightlifting. This was back in the days before being nerd was cool, when not caring about or being invested in anything was the benchmark for cool.

“Chris,” he told me one day in gym class, “you wouldn’t be so fat if you worked out.” 

Coming from Tony, this sounded peculiarly like constructive advice. Normally, Tony came in two flavors: aloof and insulting Tony or looking-for-a-pretense-to-beat-the-snot-out-of-someone Tony. This new Tony confused, frightened and intrigued me. So, rather than look away and break eye contact, I asked him what he would recommend starting with.

Following a derisive chuckle, Tony demonstrated and then spotted me while I did three sets of a dumb bell shoulder press with two 15 pound weights. Upon completion, he gave me a sincere “good job” and told me to wear stronger deodorant. From that point on, I only encountered helpful-but-still-mildly-insulting Tony, who would go on to teach me numerous other free weight exercises.

I was hooked and soon I would encourage my friends to join me after school in the gym.

I see evidence that the strange and arbitrary division between “jocks” and “nerds” has deteriorated over the years, but I remember how confused and almost insulted I felt the first time my gym teacher referred to me as an “athlete.” The idea was absurd to 16-year-old me, even after I’d run my first under-six-minute mile. Weren’t athletes popular? They certainly didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons on weekends. I hated everything those people stood for, those brutes who valued action over imagination. I wasn’t working out because society told me to, I was working out because I liked the way it made me feel and I wanted to say I could do extra melee damage when I played myself as a character.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the years towards why working out appealed to me as much as it did and still does. Here’s some of what appealed to that 16-year-old nerd and what still appeals to him to this day.

1. Exercise responds well to obsessive focus and creative innovation.

No matter how long you’ve been exercising, you’ve probably only done a small fraction of what’s out there. There’s no excuse for boredom; the number of programs, routines, calisthenic exercises, free weight exercises and even machines is nearly inexhaustible. Just last week I, for the first time, did something called a bear crawl, an insidious bit of aerobic contortion that destroys your dignity even as it strengthens your core.

2. Antisocial meritocracy

Workout buddies aside, the phrase “it’s not what you know but who you know” does not apply to exercise. While every body is different, if you work out, you will get stronger and healthier. If you push your body to its limit, whatever that limit may be, it will reward you. It should be noted, however, that good old Tony overstated its effects on weight control. Unless you’re running daily marathons, it’s just not possible to exercise away a poor diet. However, you’ll still pack on muscle and find that stairs no longer take the wind out of you, even as you reach for that fourth slice of pizza.

3. It’s smart

Besides cessation of activities like smoking and probing electric sockets with forks, the best thing you can do for your body is exercise. The brain isn’t a jockey driving a meat mech, it’s completely integrated into your body. In fact, neurologists claim exercise is better at delaying the onset of senility than cognitive activities like crossword puzzles. Who would have thought those jocks were helping their brains function?

4. Playing against type

You know how everyone thought Clark Kent was a total pushover? Or how their jaws would drop when Bruce Banner tore out of his purple jeans and starting wrecking fools? Or how making fun of Carrot Top feels a lot riskier than it used to? It’s kinda like that.

Yes, sir, Mr. Top, sir, prop comedy is the purest form of comedy.

5. You’ll do your best thinking away from your gadgets

There are some exceptions, but for the most part it’s difficult to exercise while being plugged into anything more complex than an audio device. When you’re running a 5K outdoors, you don’t have a lot of easy entertainment at hand, which means your mind will start doing what it does when it’s not being stimulated by Facebook—thinking.

As a nerd of advanced years, I look with pride upon the younger generation of jacked, well-socialized geeks. And I know that, somewhere, Tony is trying to coax his son away from his Xbox long enough to teach him how to shoulder press.

Or he’s in jail.

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