November thesis thoughts...
Been working on my thesis and some small ideas turned into this.
I am once again conflicted with how I intend to “sell” the idea of my thesis. Commitment to Physical Activity: More health or harm?! Do I say that exercise/PA is all fine and dandy and should be pushed and promoted for its overwhelmingly obvious health benefits. What is health anyway and how does PA really relate? Stupid question right? Maybe not. If being healthy means being happy and living one’s life the best they can, then exercise might not be ideal for that. Many/most people hate the ‘idea’ of having to exercise a couple times per week to be “healthy” and can you really blame them? If I was told to do something I hate (say swimming or lifting weights) for 30min per day for 5 days a week (for the rest of all time (ie FOREVER!!!)), I would be pissed too. And how is doing something you legitimately dislike good for you anyway? Certainly we know PA contributes to good physical health (think “healthy weight (again, what does this mean?!), low cholesterol, low adiposity, blood pressure, heart rate is “normal”, insulin is good, high fitness, decreased illness, etc. etc.) but what about mental and social health?! Are these not as important?! Having fun hanging out with friends vs running on a treadmill for an hour…you’re telling me the latter is the “better” option?!
So what’s my point here? It’s all RELATIVE! Health, fitness, normal, better…these are not absolutes; they are subjective and highly variable. I run 100km a week but then eat massive amounts of candy. You don’t do either. So which is the ‘better’ way to go; which is more ‘normal’? I prefer my way but wouldn’t recommend it.
Getting back to my thesis: I have spoken with a number of individuals who all value and incorporate physical activity (exercise, training, sport!) into their lives and appear all the better for it. They do so for very different reasons and with different goals in mind. But for those on the outside looking in, some of what they/we do is completely crazy! We run hundreds and thousands of miles every year (not to mention the supplemental training); we wake up before the sun rises and after it sets and spend prolonged (sometimes very long) periods in the snow, sleet, rain, and wind; we spend significant amounts of money on this; we travel to exotic locations to do it; we base our identity on it; our diet depends on it; we hurt ourselves doing it and then we have the nerve to say we enjoy it?! Of course we have a problem! It’s excessive, obsessive, compulsive and perhaps even addictive...damn straight it’s not healthy! We spend all our time doing it; we feel like shit when we don't; we have no energy for other things; our relationships with friends and family suffer from it; we’re bruised and broken from it...and yet we continue to do it!
You could say I’m just a tad conflicted here. We’re talking about a behaviour which is completely part of who I am; I love it and wouldn’t give it up for the world. In some ways, I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do. And yet it can clearly cause problems and has a dark side to it as well. So what am I to do?! Yes, I truly believe that being physically active is important, valuable and “healthy” and that everyone should be doing more of it. Yes, I think it’s our collective responsibility to ensure our own health and the health of those around us and perhaps that means telling people to behave and act in certain ways that they may not enjoy (think smoking). Yes, I think that health is about much more than a lower body weight, a better lipid profile and an increased VO2max and that mental and social health are equally important. Yes, I think that being happy, having a strong social network and doing the things that are enjoyable and pleasurable to us are fundamental to good overall health and well-being. No, I don’t think that being told to exercise for x min per day for y times per week at z heart rate/intensity is effective or useful for most people. In fact I think it’s kinda shit. But that doesn’t mean we can/should leave people to their own devices and allow them to do whatever they choose (ie we should provide guidance, options, education…and maybe even regulation). Physical activity is awesome. I love it and so do most of my friends and family. But it’s awesome because I enjoy it and it provides me with a sense of accomplishment and confidence; self-efficacy and satisfaction. It’s not because it means I will live an extra year or two, that my LDL cholesterol will be 15 points lower or because I can eat an extra 300 calories every day.
I still don’t know what kind of ‘story’ I plan to tell when I write my final dissertation. I hope it’s an honest one that can reflect my personal views and opinions yet remain objective, scientifically valid and reflective of reality/the "truth". It’s definitely an important issue and I hope you can see why. All that glitters is not gold; exercise/PA is not the panacea for poor health; it is not the magic cure. Don’t even get me started about sport, especially elite/high performance sport. My ultimate goal here is the promotion of health. I’m still trying to figure out what ‘health’ means and how we measure it, but I’m sure that it (or some variation of it) is attainable, affordable and worthwhile. Please don’t ask why being healthy is necessary, valuable or important; it just is!