Exercise, fitness, going to the gym… these things have become an inescapable part of western culture over the last few decades. No longer can exercise be admired at a distance only, as something for the young, the active and those with nothing better to do (like say, reading a book). Now we’re told that working out makes us happier, healthier and more productive, and that it is good for our minds as well as our bodies.

In a recent interview, the pre-eminent blogger and ‘curator of interestingness’ Maria Popova described the importance of physical exercise to the process of thought and creativity. At the time I was enjoying a packet of crisps and a nice cup of tea, idly toying with the idea of writing a blog post. Popova’s musings had me guiltily heading for the dusty corner of my room where I keep my dumbbell.

Who will save the sedentary blogger from the ever-present spectre of exercise guilt?

Howard Jacobson, that’s who, a columnist and writer who has written an award written novel, presumably without having once attempted a squat or a stomach crunch (whatever they are). In this life-affirming – or laze-affirming – article, he ponders the relationship between weight, exercise and happiness. There is much for the aspiring writer and passer of English exams to admire in Jacobson’s writing, and we’ll get on to that tomorrow. For now though, here’s a short quote and a challenge, best attempted sitting down, or lying down if you can manage it…

When you’re happy, you dispense with exercise. I have not spent a great deal of time in gyms or health clubs. Having loathed PE as a boy, it makes no sense to me to embrace it as a man. But whenever I’ve been in a gym I’ve been struck by the angry sadness of everyone I see there.


Describe your own attitude towards exercise.

  •   Try to use parallelisms like Jacobson uses (‘as a boy… as a man’).
  •   ‘Angry sadness’ is a nice example of a modified abstract noun – steely determination is another. Aim to use one of these in your writing too.

2 thoughts on “Article of the Week: Howard Jacobson on Fitness

  1. this is intriguing. well, I it has been a long day, so I can’t think straight enough to use any abstract language. But I find it funny that I’m a happy person, love to exercise (agreed, I’m sure a gym would make me feel like a walking zombie too, so I work out at home), but now that I’m trying to find more time to write, I’m starting to feel lazy and sluggish. Need to figure out a new system.

    • I’m not sure you and Jacobson are kindred spirits! I think Jacobson probably is exaggerating a little, and probably does some exercise, but he doesn’t seem too worried about it. Popova seems to think exercising sharpens the mind as well as the body, and you sound like you agree with her more.

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