Here’s a web-only column from January.
Mission Accomplished, Unfortunately
January 8, 2017
One of the great truisms of life is that we should be careful what we wish for. It’s good advice for us as individuals, and as societies.
It’s not hard to see around us the unforeseen negative effects of getting exactly what we’ve striven for generations to achieve—lives of relative comfort, accomplished with relative ease. Perhaps we see it most clearly every morning when we look in the mirror.
There is no shortage of information about the effects of failing to care for our most cherished possession—our own bodies. As a society we eat poorly and we don’t get enough exercise. I won’t bore you with charts and graphs to prove what you already know. The results are plain to see, in medical studies and on street corners.
The freedom to avoid hard daily labor and still be able to provide food and shelter for yourself and your loved ones has been the quest of centuries. Today it’s Mission Accomplished, enabling us to move on to new goals, like winning this week’s Powerball. Today most of us drive comfortable cars to our comfortable work stations, then return home to our comfortable chairs for an evening of flat screen entertainment. Repeat for five days, then settle in for football.
A century or so ago, exercise was part of the daily bargain of survival. You worked, you ate. In the process, the exercise took care of itself. It was a hard way to live, but it was life.
Today we have the luxury to choose whether or not we will exercise, and if we do, for how long, how much, and how hard. Or we have the freedom to sit on our sofas and, physiologically speaking, do nothing at all for as long as we want.
We all know this isn’t the best recipe for personal fitness, but we will also go to significant lengths to ignore what we know. So-called ‘vanity sizing’ now adjusts itself to our expanding society. A study reported in the summer of 2016 in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine found that a size 16 dress in 1958 is a size 8 dress today. And what we call a size 0 dress today would have been a size 8 dress in 1958.
As the saying goes, you are free to choose your actions, but you are not free to choose the results of those actions. We have achieved our successfully sedentary lifestyle, but we have painted ourselves into a corner in the process. The freedom to enjoy work that doesn’t involve lifting hay bales all day may be wonderful, but it means you must get your exercise on your time off—which, depending on your schedule, may not give you much time at all.
Today, if you want to exercise you have to sacrifice both your free time and your bank balance. Running shoes can easily top one hundred dollars a pair, and a mid-range treadmill can run you a thousand. Gym memberships are a solution to buying your own exercise equipment, but long term contracts and long hours in the gym instead of at home can enact their own price. The choices of modern life.
Like any problem that develops slowly over time, this one is easy to ignore until you can’t ignore it any longer. As my wife likes to say, “jeans don’t lie,” a statement equally applicable to both genders. As we carry forward the torch of sluggish inactivity our forefathers worked so hard to provide for us, we find ourselves facing challenges they probably didn’t anticipate. We can, of course, solve these problems, but we’re going to have to get on our feet to do it, and depending on the cost in both time and money, the solution may come with a significant price tag—but life is never easy, no matter how many generations we’ve worked to make it that way.