Fitness as a consequence, not a goal

I don’t believe in working out. This may seem shocking to many of you, especially those who believe I am a working out fanatic. Some people think, “Wow he exercises a lot for someone who doesn’t believe in working out.” But working out is done for the purpose of health. Training is similar to a basketball player practicing free throws or a tennis player working on serves. I don’t work out. I train.

Never during my training sessions do I think about the health consequences. Sometimes, in fact, I have found myself in the hospital as a result of my training and racing. Just a few weeks ago, one of those trending articles about health and fitness and what is “bad for you” popped up. The articles cited a meta analysis that was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. A meta analysis does not perform any new research but rather collaborates the research on a certain topic to find a general trend. The research is very accurate and well done and found that there are many heart conditions associated with intense, sustained endurance training such as is done in triathlon or distance cycling and running. This meta analysis was no shocker. Apply a stress to your heart day after day and it could potentially cause scarring, dilation of the chambers of the heart, and potentially cardiac arrest. That seems fairly logical and expected to me and a fact most triathletes had already accepted. So why would anyone continue to do this stuff with these frightening consequences?

I once had a shirt that listed four or five epic ways to die, including skiing off a mountain cliff, and then said “Or you could fall off the couch and die.” That is the reality, life is finite. You will die. We have no idea how long we will have, but in most cases, we have control over how we want to live it. So each of us has a decision. Do we want to fight to sustain that life for as long as possible, or do we want to simply enjoy what we get? Imagine avoiding any sort of rich dairy (I think I’d rather die), eating gluten free, exercising exactly one hour per day on the elliptical or stationary bike taking care to keep heart rate not too high, and avoiding sunlight, avoiding every Men’s Health magazine no-no, only to die in a car accident before your 30th birthday. Or imagine being fat and sloppy, never taking care of yourself, barely being able to walk and dying of heart disease at age 45. I choose neither.

I choose adventure and I choose life. I love triathlons. I love racing and being better than I was the year before. It is a passion of mine that I won’t even consider limiting because it may result in cardiac arrest somewhere down the road. I don’t think many triathletes second guessed what they are doing when they read that article. Instead, the lazy population who sits around and eats their faces off saw it as an excuse to continue doing what they are doing. But what they don’t realize is that even if the results of an active lifestyle and a sedentary lifestyle were remotely similar (they aren’t in reality that close), the primary difference between the two is the mental result. Even if both populations lives were equal in duration, there would be drastic differences in quality.

So this topic of quality of life brings me back to my hatred of working out and this fad that caught on in the past couple decades. Fitness in my opinion should be a result of lifestyle, not a goal. Hear that again: I don’t think someone should work out with the goal of “getting in shape”. Ellipticals and treadmills and stationary bikes all suck. Honestly, I don’t there is any debate there. The manufacturers try to make them exciting by putting TV’s on them and other electronics but it doesn’t change anything. God forbid anyone go run outside, or ride a bike with traffic. I’ll see many college students sitting on the stationary bike inside the Virginia Tech gym but the last time they actually rode a bike was when they were kids.

This past winter I tried riding my bike on my stationary trainer. I put on a movie that I made it about 10 minutes through. Then I grabbed my mp3 player and thought music would help pass the time. It didn’t. But that is what it came to, a desire to “pass the time” and that more than anything else is a disgusting way to live our finite life. I abandoned the trainer shortly after. The next day I ended up out in sub freezing weather with my finger tips numb but at least I could sense that I was alive and the pain replaced the boredom.

To train or exercise and be miserable while doing it is horribly unsustainable. What we should instead look to is enjoyment of our life with fitness as a consequence. I would recommend to that girl on the elliptical that she try hiking on one of the amazing trails here in southwest Virginia. Or maybe instead of driving that one mile to class that she walk it and save money and time by combining transportation with physical exercise. I am not in one bit against health. I have watched the country become weaker with the plague of obesity becoming an accepted standard and I am totally an advocate of strength. All I want is to see the physical strength be accompanied by mental strength and happiness. I firmly believe in abandoning that gym membership to instead pursue some physically demanding passion. I think this is part of the key to our country returning to health. We can see that nothing is changing with the 100’s of Gold’s Gyms popping up across the country. Something needs to change and in my opinion the fad of “working out” needs to be replaced with lifestyle changes and passions that are physically demanding.

Ditch the rower for a kayak. Ditch the treadmill for a running regimen to beat your best friend at the local 5k. Or sign up for something crazy that you never thought you could complete like an adventure race or a marathon. Do a triathlon. Join the local adult basketball team. Make a goal to make 20 free throws in a row and then try to beat that. Athletics are not the only way to stay healthy either. Competition can fuel the desire to become better which usually results in physical strength but many activities can have the same result. Plant a vegetable garden and maintain it in its best condition. Adopt an active dog from the local shelter, pick up swing dancing, or learn to fish. There are 1000 ways to be healthy and enjoy doing it. It is intimidating to walk into a new gym for the first time so take those guts and funnel them toward an equally intimidating activity. But what should remain of primary importance above the health consequences is the enjoyment of the activity and the passion for living.

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