There really are only two things we know about how our actions are affecting our health. I don't know you. I've never met you. But I know (statistically) two things you should try to do:
- Eat a little less
- Exercise a bit more
Sadly, pretty much everything is in there. And even if I'm wrong...well, you know I'm not wrong.
We really do like reading things we already know
Still, newspapers and websites need to fill space, and some of us have an insatiable urge to read about diet and exercise, just as some of us like reading about organizing things. As you may have guessed, I'm guilty of both. Reading about it is a partial replacement for actually doing it, whatever "it" is.
And The New York Times writes about exercise all the time, particularly in their somewhat loosely named Science section (Tuesdays). Often they cite studies of various sorts. "Studies show". We all know studies show that virtually every study is misleading.
Gretchen Reynolds seems to get the duty of spinning some tiny study involving eighteen people who only ate standing up for two weeks or something (not a real study...as far as I am aware) into a plausible-seeming article about health.
Last week it was about how our experience in gym class in our youth affects our attitude toward exercise in adulthood. It's based on that gold standard of high-quality studies, the online questionnaire. Yeah, you should probably stop reading right now.
Did you hate gym class? Does it matter?
The subhead of the article starts with the observation that people who filled out the survey "tended to harbor vivid memories of gym class". Because that's the kind of person who wanders around the internet filling out lengthy online questionnaires about immensely tedious topics like how you felt about gym class! And like all these articles, they cite what people say about why they don't exercise as a cause, rather than an excuse. "Thirty years ago I hated gym class, so I can't bear the idea of getting off the couch now". I don't know why people bother. Why not say "I don't exercise. I don't like it. Go away"? Own it!
Look, I get it. I was inept as a child and young adult. Picked last, slow, clumsy, and bored. I never really found gym class interesting or useful. I never looked forward to it. I would find some similarly malfunctioning friend and hang out in the outfield talking and hoping no one would hit anything in our direction.
Now I exercise a fair amount. I lift, I run, I bike, I enjoy the hell out of it. I would still be miserable at kickball, and apprehensive at the idea of trying to hit a thrown baseball with a stick. Someone I went out with recently told me that a friend of hers observed that no one ever came back from going out to exercise saying "man, I wish I hadn't done that". I hope she goes out with me again. People with interesting friends are always the best people to know.
Exercise makes you feel better, even if exercise itself doesn't always feel great. Gym class didn't teach me anything about that.
Now, maybe gym classes should. They should focus on finding things that are relatively fun to do that get your heart pumping, build muscle, and maintain flexibility. It should help you build lifelong habits that make your life long.
Because habit is everything, intention almost nothing.
I still don't think your memories of gym class have anything to do with it.
What habit do you wish you had?
And which one did you wish you didn't?