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April 07, 2010


Hi Jennifer, This is a provocative post and I don't have room to respond in full here. I've lived a before gym and after gym life and the after gym life is better even with the occasional dose of gym guilt. Saying that most people die in car accidents isn't quite fair b/c we don't know how many people would have died if they didn't take up the gym habit. My dad died at 50 (heart attack), at the gym, while jogging. But perhaps he otherwise would have died at 40. We'll never know. The gym can be a social center, as it was for me for many years when I belonged to a YMCA in upstate NY. I loved being in the locker room chatting w/the other women of all shapes and sizes as we changed in to or out of our bathing suits and I made lasting friendships there around shared interests. There's more to it than body obsession.
Besides, who says guilt is bad? Guilt is a teacher. Excessive guilt is bad, but a certain amount is a healthy motivator.

Steve, a friend of my father's, who later died of a terrible disease, briefly lived in Los Angeles where he realized the social impossibility of not going to the health club. Everyone out there had personal trainers. He was bad at going to the gym, even when he hired a trainer to meet him there. Neither the ordinary guilt nor the cost of paying for trainer who showed up when Steve didn't were enough to get him to go. So, he contacted his lawyer--I recall him telling this story with animation and delight in my parents' living room twenty years ago--and made a legal agreement. The agreement was to have the lawyer give money to an organization Steve hated everytime he failed to go to the gym. He chose the Neo Nazi organization. He never, ever missed a training session.

I've thought about this a bunch since reading the Happiness Myth, because while I agree with you, I think that the root of gym guilt (our sedentary, ruling-class, lives) goes so deep that there might not be a way to totally eliminate the gym guilt and still all be healthy and happy.

Raking your own leaves and taking walks is great- I've always loved to do that. But until I started seriously exercising almost every day, I was fat. Not like 5-pounds-over-what the doc recommends fat, really fat. With my family history and metabolism, I'd have Type II diabetes by now if I didn't work out regularly, and that would suck more than it does going to the gym. I run outside when I can, but I still need to exercise when it's snowing, so I go to the gym. I wouldn't say I "like" it, but I didn't like being fat. I'm happier overall, if not necessarily for that hour of the day. And I feel annoyed with myself when I don't go often, because I know if I keep not going I'll end up less happy pretty soon.

Unfortunately, because our lives aren't set up to exercise naturally on a regular basis, eliminating the gym means we just plain get less exercise. That might be OK for some people, but not for everyone. My body needs to move a lot, and I work in an office. I could quit and work construction, but I like my job.

When I envision a society full of healthy people with no gym guilt, I see a lot of dramatic changes, of the kind I don't expect us to see in my lifetime or the next (clean energy, too, and free puppies for everyone!). But the conversation you're starting here is super valuable and I think will definitely improve people's lives who are feeling guilty without really considering what their body needs. So.. .now I will stop babbling at you.

My high school friend Jim Gilt was excused from phys ed courses, but played a dynamite game of pick-up basketball and was my doubles partner in tennis senior year.

While gym guilt may sometimes be bad, this post makes energy-crisis guilt seem worse.

It's not about living forever, it is about maintaining your health while you're here. As the centenarian said:"If I had known I was going to be here this long, I would have taken better care of myself." Old and sick is a rough life.

But all the healthy people who live to be over 100 do so because they have one activity--gardening, walking into town or up the mountain--they like that they do each and every day. Not pumping iron. No aerobics. Focus, pleasure, health.

Just followed this post over from The One True Blog, because it applies to me...definitely.

Unfortunately, Rachel Bishop described me to a tee. Diabetes in both parents' families. 60 pounds overweight. Looked (yes looked...give me my faggy vanity)terrible. Bicycling is my main fanatical sport,but I have become a fanatical gym rat, too.

There are other reasons, too. I have screwed up other parts of my life big time. Gym (and definitely bicycling) is better than other compensating "drugs" and at least means I no longer look or have the blood chemistry of my father who stroked out at 55. And we may not live forever, but nine years in a nusrsing home----nope.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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