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Making exercise socially relevant

Posted on February 09, 2013 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 10, 2013 – 12:00am

I have a love/hate relationship with exercise and gyms. Maybe it is because I was once a certified couch potato, a card-carrying member of what someone on Facebook describes as the Fitness Protection Program who, in moments of weakness, actually biked and ran and went to the gym — and shamelessly enjoyed it.

While I am all for staying fit and healthy, I am ambivalent about the whole idea of going to a venue designed for this type of activity and doing stretching and exercise routines designed by a so-called expert.

Studies say that to stay healthy, one must walk 10,000 steps a day. That’s to keep the circulation going and for leg muscles to remain firm and not atrophy. Other studies will tell you that the lifestyles of most people who live and work in cities is downright unhealthy. That all that sitting on one’s butt in front of a computer is harmful in so many ways. It hampers blood circulation and wreaks havoc on one’s posture, causing a host of medical conditions. That constant typing will cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and staring for long hours at a computer screen will destroy one’s eyesight.

These are just some of the reasons why experts say we should exercise. And I agree, though grudgingly.

I am back to exercising these days. But on the days that I have designated to go to the gym, around two to three times a week, I find that I have to psych myself and engage in self-motivation to actually do it. While putting on my running shoes and my gym shorts and T-shirt, and preparing my water bottle, towel and bag, I struggle against a great inertia that suggests I forego all this trouble.

But I end up doing it anyway. I have long ago been convinced that when you consistently perform an activity 21 times straight and on schedule, you have already made it a habit.

I believe in physical activity. I believe in balancing the body, mind and spirit. I believe that a perfect body with an infantile mind, or a repressed, dark spirit will not do the world any good. So all three areas must be cared for and balanced.

What bothers me about exercising and gyms is why I even have to engage in them, even if I have already found many perfectly good reasons to do so.

Let me try to clarify. The whole idea of exercise is a bane of modern living. Think about it: men and women lived for many centuries without really “exercising.” They were fit because they had to survive by hunting, gathering food, tending cattle, training in the art of fighting, carrying heavy things and doing manual labor, or perish. All those activities made them fit. No gyms, no fancy outfits, no memberships, and no trainers (except maybe for the warriors).

I am an old-fashioned guy who likes to make crazy sweeping statements, and I say the modern age has made narcissistic sissies of everyone. When was the last time you were actually in danger because you were hunting an animal for your family’s dinner? When did you ever have to go to a corn or rice field to gather food to bring home? When was the last time you held a spear to drive away invaders? Our ancestors did all these (quite regularly, I assume), and without watching themselves in big mirrors! They knew backbreaking work and the rewards it brought. I dare say, they knew how to live a full life and even die majestically with their boots on!

Now, all we do is simulate the muscle movements the ancients used to do while being supervised by instructors in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym with machines, gadgets and TV sets as we watch and ogle ourselves and others sweating before big mirrors. We are largely removed from anything life-threatening (unless, of course, a big machine falls on you, which is as improbable as the church supporting RH). Sadly, that’s what we moderns do to feel good and macho. Where is the “living” in that?

Okay, I know I am being facetious; but isn’t there something askew with this picture? Isn’t there something comically perverse here? I think that gyms are no different from sex shops where people can buy sex toys to simulate the real thing. Or gyms are like libraries where we live vicariously while reading about the lives of others instead of living our own. Or they are like Disneylands of the body where we simulate and pretend we are in actually dangerous adventures and fantasies come to life complete with adrenalin rushes, but with the assurance that we will never be physically hurt.

Have I driven home the point that all that strenuous effort we exert in the gym is just in place of the real, compelling physical activity our ancestors had to do to survive? A mere shadow of the real thing!

American writer Robert A. Heinlein points out, “Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.” He has a point. To our hunter-gatherer ancestors, it may well have been, “What good is all that stalking, waiting, running, and throwing spears and shooting arrows if we have no dead animal to bring home?” “What’s all the huffing and puffing and trying to blow the house down for if the wolf doesn’t get the pig?”

Which brings me to a novel and noble idea I wish to espouse. What if we could convert all that physical activity that happens in gyms to something really tangible? What if we could transform all the energy we expend doing pull-ups, stationary walking and running, push-ups and stretching, into electricity? What if exercise machines were connected to the electric grid so that every time they are used, they produce power for everyone to use? I once saw a man on TV connect a stationary bike to a contraption that ran his TV set. If he wanted to watch TV, he had to actually pedal and produce the power to run it.

If this could be done, exercising in the gym would make more sense and have a greater social dimension. Going to the gym would be much more than just plain old narcissism but an activity with a positive social dimension to it. Personal vanity and social responsibility can actually go together. Think about it: weightlifters would not just be buffed-up human curiosities, they would be admired for helping produce power that runs modern life! People like Sylvester Stallone would be true heroes in real life!

Now imagine if we could bring this technology to our homes. To run the ref, you have to do 50 pushups. Your electric fan will run on low mode for the next three hours if you do six sets of 15 reps of leg curls. Surfing the net would require stretching and touching your toes. You want hot water for bathing? Do jumping jacks to produce enough electricity to run the pumps that bring up the hot water to the shower!

I would be more than gung ho about exercising if it were like this. Aiming for a flat stomach, or nice cuts on my aging physique, would constitute a truly productive, altruistic and noble act! How cool is that? It would be on everyone’s shoulders to prevent brownouts!

Okay, let’s start the treadmill and let’s get physical.

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