News note: 3.5% of Americans aged 18-59 do 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week – the minimum suggested by the government for health (Gina Kolata, NY Times).
Only 96.5% of the younger adult population is not doing the minimum required exercise. It’s 97.5% for those over 59.
Taking away the small proportion of people too disabled to move we have to ask – why won’t people sweat?
Reasons Often Provided Against Physical Activity
1. I already move a lot for my work (the data above came from accelerometers — objective measures. People generally overestimate how much physical activity they do — often by a lot.)
2. There’s no time.
3. It messes up my hair.
4. The only time I can do it is the only time I have for me.
5. I have to shower afterward and there’s no place to do that.
6. I don’t have time to shower and clean up afterward – and there’s no place to do that at work.
7. It messes up my make-up.
8. I need the time for sleep.
9. Once I’m through with work and the kids I’m beat.
10. I like to watch my favorite TV shows at the end of the day, okay?
11. It hurts.
12. I’m too exhausted to exercise.
13. I would do it, but my friends want to do something else.
14. Aren’t they coming up with pills that will do the same thing?
15. I don’t have a weight problem.
16. It makes me uncomfortable.
17. I look really bad when I exercise.
18. I don’t want to go to the gym with all those young kids and their muscular bodies.
19. I can do what I want with the body I have – why should I waste time exercising?
20. If I exercise I won’t find out what’s happening in Facebook and with my friends – I can’t stand that.
21. I can’t pay for the gym.
Reasons Against Reasons Against Exercising
1. The human body is built to move. It's hard to fully regenerate without it.
2. Exercise includes all voluntary muscle movement – like walking briskly in the mall on your way to a Black Friday bargain.
3. People look better.
4. People feel better.
5. You’ll more effectively overcome the mental “fatigue” of work and social tension.
6. You’ll better avoid heart attacks, strokes, cancer.
7. You’ll live longer.
8. You’ll grow new brain cells – especially in memory areas.
9. Exercise can quickly become part of “routine” activities like shopping or communicating with co-workers.
10. You may avoid visiting the doctor.
11. You can save money on future medical bills.
12. You’ll sleep better.
13. You’ll probably feel younger. And look younger.
14. It’s one thing that gives you a best shot of avoiding Alzheimer’s disease.
15. If regenerative medicine and its panoply of artificial organs and youth inducing hormones is ever going to work, you have to be in good enough shape to use it.
16. You’ll feel less anxious and depressed.
Sadly these reasons fail to impress people. Even when they acknowledge them, they don’t act on them. Long life, avoiding doctors, good skin, zippier brains don’t cut it. A new approach is needed.
It’s time to ask the car companies what they would do.
Fun To Drive
In the last 15 years Toyota massively miscalculated. It tried to rapidly become the world’s largest car maker. Yet despite mass recalls, it is once again world leading in car profits and sales.
President Toyoda of Toyota explained his strategy in three words – they had to make cars “fun to drive.”
Americans presently rank 50th in longevity in the world. Foreigners came to our shores and are amazed at how big we are – not just our skyscrapers and SUVs, but us. To get Americans to move more so they might work more effectively, live longer and still not bankrupt the Treasury, physical activity is going to have to become fun.
We should proceed acknowledging the primacy of pleasure.
So here are a few preliminary proposals:
1. Emphasize walking. Most people can walk.
2. Make walking fun. That usually involves elements of novelty, amusement, and finding a destination. People enjoy walking in New York and Paris – it’s pleasurable, even an art form.
Urban planners used to be worried about making driving “fun.” They built roads with “interesting curves” and “sweeping vistas.
Walking along highways is not fun.
3. Make moving social. Walking and talking is good for the brain. Though some people are excellent self-monologuists, conversation is generally more intriguing.
4. Make moving an adventure. Using different muscles in different body parts can pleasantly surprise the user. Seeing new places can surprise even more. And you can dance in lots of places.
5. Recognize the spiritual dimension of “exercise.” Lots of spiritual practices involve physical actions.
6. Return to the primacy of meaning. People want to do something useful. If walking to the supermarket means less pollution and global warming, people should feel good about doing that.
7. Many peak experiences involve physical movement – and that’s well before you consider sex.
If something is fun people might do more of it. They might even briefly turn away from checking messages and email on their cell phones/pads/notebooks/laptops.
At least for a little while. It won’t take that long to make a real difference – for everybody.