After I wrote the post about the magic pill yesterday, I found myself continuing to thinking about it later. I’ve come to a new conclusion: I think if such a pill were invented, more people would exercise, not less. Just in case you missed my post yesterday, here is the thought experiment that Caitlyn at Fit and Feminist posed:
…and so I wondered, if medical researchers were to develop a pill that could provide all the physical health benefits of regular exercise, and that pill had no side effects, and it was as inexpensive as a bottle of aspirin – would I still continue to be as physically active as I am? […]
First of all, I think nearly everyone would take this pill. Oh, there would be a few holdouts, there always are, but if there was a pill that would allow people to either lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, plus gave all the all the other physical benefits of exercise, that would be reason enough – even for the naturally thin and healthy. The question though is, would people still exercise, and I think not only would they still exercise, far more people would give it a try.
I mean, we all know exercise is good for us, so why don’t we do it? In my opinion the big three reasons are 1) It’s boring, 2) I’m not motivated enough and 3) the inner rebel that hates to do anything we “have to do.” There are other reasons of course, but I’d say these are some of the most common. Now, let’s introduce the magic pill:
Boredom: I think the very first thing to go would be repetitive exercise, (except in specific situations.) Things that people dread because they are monotonous: the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bikes and so on would start to die out almost immediately. The exception would be training tools for athletes, hard core cyclists might still use trainer bikes, runners might still use treadmills in bad weather and so on. But overall? These things would become the next buggy whip.
Gyms would have to start changing their strategy. Right now they succeed in part because people feel they “should” go. If you take away the “should” you are going to have to make it so that people “want” to go. How can you do that? By making it fun. Of the exercise I said I would keep doing, one of the biggest reasons was because it is fun. I think Crossfit gyms understand this. They have elements of friend competition and badassery that make it fun. I can think of lots of ways Gyms could become more fun. So… if they make exercise fun, then it becomes fun to exercise, not boring.
I’m Not Motivated Enough: I think there are two levels of motivation here. There is the, “Meh. I don’t really feel like going for a run today,” sort of malaise that even elite athletes feel sometimes, and then there are the huge debilitating factors that those who are overweight face. I’m not concerned about the “meh” factor too much, I’ll talk about why in the next point. What I want to talk about is how hard it is to exercise when you are overweight.
Now, we all know that no matter where people are or how they feel, they can do some form of exercise. However, in order to do so may involve dealing with public shame, physical disabilities, and limited access. This is why anyone who is overweight and gets out there and exercises is an automatic bad ass and my hero. Let’s break this down a bit and look at it a little closer:
Public shame: Working out when you are out of shape and overweight can be embarrassing. I’ve been told that people at the gym really don’t pay attention to other people and everyone is there to deal with their own stuff. That may be perfectly true, but really, it doesn’t matter. There is a reason that all of my exercise (especially when I first started) was done alone, at home. If we had a pill that could help everyone get to more or less the same healthy body weight, this shame could be lifted.
Physical disabilities: Being overweight can make it really, really hard to work out. I wasn’t that overweight, (5’6”, 170+ lbs) but even for me, it was difficult. Here’s a kind of embarrassing example: I’ve mentioned before that at my heavier weight I was pretty busty. That means that any sort of activity that involved running or jumping was not only awkward, but really uncomfortable. It’s a small silly example, but you can see where I am going. Folks with weight issues also frequently have other medical problems that make exertion hard. Again, to use myself as an example, I have had asthma since I was a child. While I still have it, it has definitely improved since taking off 35+ pounds. Take these examples and extrapolate out – and you see why I think people with weight issues who work out are bad asses!
But wait, there’s more!
Limited access: Do you know what kayaking, rock climbing, biking, gymnastics and skiing all have in common? They are great exercise, lots of fun …and they have weight limitations. Many other sports don’t have specific weight limits, but they are there nonetheless. I’m thinking of things like group sports. Sure, there might not be a specific rule, but that line is there anyway. The magic pill would eliminate it. Sure, some folks (like myself) would still be uncoordinated and lousy at sports, but they wouldn’t be uncomfortable trying them due to their body shape. I’ll tell you, I really dislike group sports, but you would have a much better chance at talking me into a game of volleyball now than you would have 35 some odd pounds ago.
The inner rebel: We all have an inner James Dean that hates the idea of doing anything we “have to” do. But if we take away the guilt with the magic pill, we make gyms and other recreational activities fun and accessible to all, this just disappears. Not everyone is going to run out and start doing Crossfit or take a Kickboxing class, but all the folks who have always been curious about it but afraid, now can jump in.
I know the magic pill is just a thought experiment, but what a wonderful thing that would be for everyone.
Photo credit: Holiday Inn Express on flickr