Monday, 13 August 2012

How competitive sports might take the fun out of exercising



Exercise is done against one's wishes and maintained only because the alternative is worse.
George A. Sheehan


AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
The Olympics is over (Paralympics has yet to start) and the super humans has left the TV screen. It was all great fun (except of course for the things that weren't fun, such as doping, poor sportsmanship and the occasional dislocated elbow) and for many, very inspiring. I certainly feel more inspired and eager to exercise than in quite a long while.

But as I am reading through scientific articles, all about the relationship between exercise and various health parameters, I am suddenly struck by the meaninglessness of it all. Exercise is healthy in so many ways, but it really should not be something we partake in to improve our cholesterol levels. It is not something we should do to prevent osteoporosis or fatty liver and it is not something to do to hopefully feel or look good in 10 years' time. Exercise should be about having a good time here and now, and any extra beneficial effects should be considered bonuses.

Of course, many do consider exercise to be nothing more than fun and a break from every day hassle, but many do not and that is a shame. Exercise is one of those things we humans so easily overthink and make so much more than is really is. Movement is the most natural thing in the world. We are truly made to move and undoubtedly sicken if we don’t.

One of the reasons that so many of us struggle to just have fun moving and not being caught by the big monster that is stress, pressure and expectations, might be the influence from competitive sports. There is a big difference between exercising for the joy of exercise and exercising to become the best. Undoubtedly, competitive athletes also have fun exercising, but the presence of competition is what makes all the difference and we should not strive to become like competitive athletes. Once we set our goals high we start to specialize and we exclude so many ways of moving that would have been rewarding in so many ways.

I'm am not trying be some exercise hippie here, setting high goals and going for them is all good, but I feel that it should be easier for people to just play and have fun with exercise without all the fuss about high quality equipment or the neurotic focusing on numbers.

I know many of you are like me in that we feel we have too little time to exercise and so when we do get some time we try to make our exercise sessions count and try to make them as effective as possible, often heavy high intensity exercise that really wears you out. But think about it, what kind of inane way to exercise is that? 


I guess what I'm trying to say is something like this. If exercising in a physiologically less effective, but more enjoyable way makes you happier, then do it. Finding the joy in exercise is about not asking too many questions. Generally speaking we are so concerned with effects and numbers and comparing one form of exercise with another, that we reduce the chance of just having fun with being active. Being happy is what makes you look good, not high intensity. It is about setting your goals straight. Remember, you only live once and there is so much fun to be had.

So if you ask me, the best exercise is the exercise that makes you happy. How about we just have some fun, eh? 



5 comments:

  1. Spot on.

    So many of us try to optimize exercise and forget that the purpose of exercise is to optimize the quality of life. They are not the same things.

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    1. Actually, exercise done correctly does exactly that. My parents are in their late 60s nearing 70. They have been doing high intensity resistance training as described in Body by Science for almost 2 years now. They lift once every two weeks in addition to their other exercise routines that they've enjoyed most of their lives. And, it's only made their other activities (including yard work and gardening) better.

      I think it was Georg Hackenschmidt that said you cannot divorce strength from health. That is precisely what proper exercise should be about: improving and maintaining strength.

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  2. Hi, interesting post. I'm 70 and have played competitive sports (low level) for many years. I've often told people that I can jog for 10 minutes but I can play full court basketball for 3 hours-until I was 68 and developed a disc problem. I needed some level of competition against a human adversary, not against a clock or odometer.

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    1. That's the best way to exercise. You obviously really enjoy playing basketball like that.

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  3. Yes! Well said. When we find ways of exercising that are fun, we also tend to find more time to do them and to keep doing them, which seems like a recipe for net gain in the long run.

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