Poetry in motion

How the Bard doth help me shed the lard.
(Justin Renteria / For The Times)
Special to the Los Angeles Times

My name is Bob and I’m an exercise coward. I’ve tried to stick with various exercise programs but always failed until I reached 71 and my Kaiser internist prodded me into an honest shot at losing weight.

To my surprise, this time I was able to stick with it — all because of a Higher Power, namely William Shakespeare.

My Higher Power had hooked up with me five years earlier when my fear of senile dementia had pushed me into memorizing 20 of his most famous sonnets as a brain exercise. This also meant, as I discovered when I began exercising, that I could now keep track of my repetitions rhythmically by linking them to the iambic rhythm of each line.


So off I went, huffing and puffing to the likes of “let ME not TO the MARriage OF true MINDS and TWO and THREE and FOUR adMIT imPEDiMENTS love IS not LOVE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and.”

Resistance training, stretching, treadmilling, stationary biking, morning walking — what I’d stumbled on was a way of putting the rhythmical barking of an Elizabethan drill instructor into my head as a companion. This was just the edge I needed to get me started on a long-range exercise program that helped me lose 80 pounds over the next two years (254 down to 174, according Kaiser’s records) and keep nearly all of it off (179 as of yesterday).

Based on my experience (I’m now 85), I strongly feel that my fellow exercise cowards should give my approach an honest try, be it with Shakespearean sonnets or other memory-friendly poems. What’s wrong, after all, with stacking the deck when your longtime health is at stake?

Oliphant, an emeritus professor of English at Cal State Northridge, lives in Thousand Oaks.