Friday, November 20, 2009

Risk and Reward

I don't enjoy exercising.

There, I said it. I-- I who complain that Americans are not active enough, that we live in a culture of laziness, that a big chunk of our CO2 emissions could be cut if we just got up off our lard asses and walked places, that health policy doesn't focus nearly enough on preventative care like exercise-- I am part of the problem.

I was, as you might imagine, the nerdy kid for whom gym class was usually a living hell: scrawny, uncoordinated, afraid of the ball despite a valiant effort in third grade on a kids' soccer team. You could say I found religion in my fervent elementary school hope that we wouldn't, please God!, be playing dodgeball today.

Not that I didn't like being active. I ran all over my back yard, climbing trees and getting muddy. I had a brief and semi-successful middle school track career as a middle-distance runner, and I rode horses from fourth grade all the way through college. And I still like being active today-- I walk all over the place, I enjoy hikes and bike rides, and hope to take up riding again once I can actually afford it.

Yet going running for running's sake, despite my best efforts at attitude transplant, does not inspire me. It feels like a chore. Yoga is fun when I'm in a class, but I have neither the time or money for that right now, and doing it on my own is similarly chore-like. And given my current workload, the opportunities for hiking and bike rides are few. I had started biking to school at the beginning of the semester, but given the hills around here I would flop into my apartment feeling like I wanted to die, and I'd still have dinner to cook and homework to do. So right now I'm not as active as I probably should be, and certainly not, as my dad always used to harangue me that I should be, "part of a physical culture."

To which, frankly, I am surprisingly indifferent.

I realize that the above paragraph is full of excuses, and that if I wanted to I certainly could find time for exercise. But that's just it-- I don't, really. There are other things I'd rather use that time for. And since I still walk a fair amount and eat a fairly healthy diet, I'm a reasonable weight, and I feel pretty physically okay, I'm fine with that.

Would I be a healthier person if I exercised more? Of course. I'd also be healthier, no doubt, if I completely eliminated caffeine, white sugar, and white flour from my diet. But you know what? I LIKE pastries, and eating one once or twice a week happens to make my day that much more enjoyable. When I cook at home, I always use unrefined sugar and at least 1/3 whole wheat flour. I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. So I think my semi-regular apple danish habit is just fine.

Of course, I would be healthier if I did X, Y, and Z. But everyone calculates some level of risk to their health against their day-to-day pleasures. Even exercise nuts. When you exercise frequently and strenuously, you run the risk of injury. Presumably if you are an exercise nut, you exercise because it is pleasurable to you, in addition to being healthy. So you too are balancing risk, benefit, and pleasure.

Personally, little pleasures like an apple danish, a cup of earl grey with cream, or some good-quality lounging are important to maintaining my mental health. My body does what I need it to do. If it seems likely at any point that my risk/pleasure calculation is such that my body will stop doing what I need it to do, then I'll reconsider. In the mean time, however, I shall stick to the motto, "Moderation in all things, including moderation."

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