MY vacation souvenir was 10 pounds. A sore knee had kept me from working out for three months, and my midlife metabolism just couldn't handle the butter-drenched lobster, shoofly pie, homemade pizzelles and campfire s'mores from three weeks on the road.
A friend recommended a stationary bike to strengthen my knee. The advice seemed sound: I needed the stronger knee to become more physical, and I needed to become more physical to lose weight.
Armed with a stack of magazines, I climbed onto a bike at the gym. That first day, I set the timer for 25 minutes and pedaled away at level two on the fat burner program. Five days a week I pedaled 20 to 45 minutes. I experimented with fat burner plus, cross-country, rolling hills and speed training. I graduated to level three, and on alternate days I also lifted weights.
I have miserable memories of physical education in junior high, but after four or five weeks at the gym, I realized how much I enjoyed this routine. I was really having fun, and I looked forward to each workout.
Why? The answer had nothing to do with the exercise, and I wasn't 10 pounds lighter. I was excited because I was reading poetry in the New Yorker and testing my vocabulary in Reader's Digest.
I learned why Picasso wouldn't drive or give his worn clothes to his gardener.
I learned that secretaries are happier than high school teachers and high school teachers are happier than preschool teachers.
I learned that a presidential physical, which costs more than $1,400, would give me the same medical evaluation provided to George W. Bush: ultrasounds, a tuberculosis test, an angiogram and a bunch of multiple-syllable procedures ending in "opy."
I learned that a grounded Airbus in India had become a $4 tourist attraction for people who wanted to board a plane, be treated to snacks and learn how to use an oxygen mask.
Some days, I didn't want to stop pedaling until I had read all the letters to the editor and knew how the people in Milford, Penn., and Brookfield, Wis., felt about food allergies.
The "whole new me" was mental, not physical. Current, knowledgeable and conversant, at parties I now could discuss the effects of birth order, a person's preferences for items that start with the same letter as his or her name and why Hillary Clinton is such a challenge to impersonators.
I lost only three of the 10 pounds, but I am not discouraged. I'll go to the gym today: I'm sure I'll read something that makes the exercise worthwhile.
Kathy S. Berger is a business consultant and freelance writer. She lives in Rossmoor.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times