Couch potatoes of the world, unite! Arise and –
Actually, scratch that. Don’t get up on my account. But will you join me for a moment in dropping the remote and shaking your fist at more blood-pressure-elevating statistics about how our way of life sucks, must be changed and will make us die?
This week, the esteemed medical journal The Lancet published new research claiming that almost a third of the world’s adults are “physically inactive,” defined as the failure to do at least 150 minutes of “moderate physical activity” a week (say, brisk walking), 60 minutes of “vigorous activity” (a game of singles tennis), or some combination.
The researchers described the problem as a “pandemic,” suggesting that the lack of physical activity causes about one in 10 deaths worldwide – a little more than five million deaths a year – and is thus as great a health hazard as obesity or smoking.
Sigh. Just when I had finally stopped quaking in my Crocs (perfect for puttering around the house, easy to kick off when you want to take a nap) over a University of Sydney study published in April suggesting that if you’re over 45 and sit more than 11 hours a day, you’re 40 per cent more likely than someone who stands up more often to die within the next three years.
That “within the next three years” stuff really gave me the heebie-jeebies. Why throw that in? It seems plain mean.
Then I realized: It’s like high school all over again. The jocks just love to bully and push the rest of us around. Except now, instead of sand, they’re kicking statistics in our faces.
My question is: When are all these aerobofascists going to stop picking on those of us who are, uh, shall we say, more horizontally inclined?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I get “moderate” exercise. I would like to remain somewhat attractive to my wife and be around for at least a few of my kids’ post-teen milestones. I’m a pretty avid cyclist, on my bike every day tooling up and down the trails – though it must be said that my much more fitness-forward wife mocks my efforts. Recently, she came along on one of my daily rides. She pronounced my pace “leisurely,” declared the outing “not a workout” – and afterward went jogging to “get some real exercise.”
But she can suck a (Lulu)lemon. Apparently even my “leisurely” rides practically makes me an elite athlete in this country: According to Statistics Canada, only about 15 per cent of us meet the basic activity benchmark, and most of us spend at least 9.5 hours a day in “sedentary pursuits.”
So what’s so bad about that? “Sedentary pursuits” are a big part of what made this country great. Sure, someone had to build the railways, to hammer in the spikes. But someone else had to design the railway, invent the steam engine, write the cheque, pass the bill…
And those people were all sitting down. Many of mankind’s soaring moments were achieved sitting down. Shakespeare wrote sitting down. The Taj Mahal was no doubt drawn up by someone sitting down. And ladies: E.L. James likely penned your beloved Fifty Shades of Grey sitting down. (You’re not fooling me with that Kindle.)
Only in our benighted era, when people secretly suspect their work probably doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme, could sitting down be so stigmatized and Spinlates so fetishized. All this has a slight soupçon of auto-da-fé anti-intellectualism, in my humble opinion – part of the Great Infantilization, Busyfication, and Action-Oriented Buff-i-fication of our culture. The Movement Movement, if you will. We’re all always moving, packing our day with work, workouts, meetings, play dates, etc. When are we supposed to stop, inhale, exhale and think?
I can’t be the only one who looks at the treadmill and sees a powerful metaphor for our times.
Honestly, I don’t know how treadmill-people do it. I go nuts with boredom on those machines. The writer David Foster Wallace estimated that he processed 10,000 units of “discrete” information a day. My mind is like that: If it isn’t working out constantly, my thoughts become flaccid, like wet noodles. On the rare occasions I go to a gym, I’m the guy on the recumbent bike reading magazines.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should be like me and toodle around on two wheels. Go ahead: Be a jock, if you’ve got the itch.
But don’t worry about those days – of contemplation, of reading and writing and thinking – where you just want to loll around, have a bubble bath, read, “veg.” Days when, as Woody Allen says to a woman in Manhattan Murder Mystery who is trying to persuade him to use a treadmill: “I prefer to atrophy.”
On those days, don’t allow the study bullies in lab coats make you feel bad. Rage on, bone-idle brethren. Don’t give up your spot on the couch without a fight.
David Eddie writes Globe Life’s weekly Damage Control column.