Yesterday I was talking to someone about exercise, encouraging her just to get out and do some brisk walking, perhaps four times/week for 45 minutes at a time. The conversation led me to think about motivation and what is it that motivates people to exercise. Fortunately, Frank Bruni has provided some thoughts on this very topic in
Here’s Bruni’s answer to my question: GUILT (although that guilt doesn’t always lead one to exercise…) Bruni chronicles how LaLanne provided the catalyst (and the first American gym in 1936) that led to the ubiquity of gyms today along with a widespread fitness and health culture, which was virtually nonexistent when LaLanne originally started promoting fitness and nutrition. Beyond inspiring the equipment, the spandex, and everything from Equinox to LA Fitness, Bally, and Crunch, LaLanne, Bruni claims, created the notion that “fitness equals character, and that self-actualization begins with the self-discipline to get and stay in shape. In the post-LaLanne landscape, it’s not the eyes but the abdominals that are the windows to the soul.”
Bruni also says, however, that the “conflation of the physical and the moral virtually spans all of human history. It’s present in the writings of the ancient Greeks, for whom athleticism was much more than mere sport. Christians long ago designated sloth one of the seven deadly sins, though they meant a dearth of industry more than a deficit of treadmill time.” Further, he highlights the religious tone in LaLanne’s “proselytizing about diet and exercise” and quotes LaLanne as saying, “‘To me, this one thing — physical culture and nutrition — is the salvation of America.’” (The American Heritage Dictionary defines salvation as “preservation or deliverance from destruction, difficulty, or evil,” a definition that seems to conflate the religious and the secular.)
Interestingly, I have described myself as “evangelical” when it comes to strength training, and I claim my proselytizing stems from how good I feel and my hearthfelt desire to spread the good word. There was another
Bruni ends his piece with an interesting question: “When exercise comes wrapped in value judgments, does it wind up entangled in an anxiety that threatens the very resolve to get fit?” He goes on to say, “As Mr. LaLanne was siring new methods for shaping up, he was fathering something else, too: a potent, and in some cases immobilizing, strain of contemporary guilt.” If we agree with Bruni, what do we do to counteract this? to get motivated (especially if guilt doesn’t do it)? to get out and walk briskly for 45 minutes? and ultimately to feel good because we did so!