Wednesday, January 21, 2015

You're thinking about fitness all wrong (Washington Post)

I was interviewed by writer Mike Plunkett for the Washington Post about exercise and philosophy. His feature, 'You're thinking about fitness all wrong', discusses the ways in which our ideas influence our fitness and health. A sample:
In his book “How to Think About Exercise,” Australian philosopher Damon Young offers a foundation to fulfill that resolution. As part of the School of Life book series that had its U.S. release this month, Young uses philosophical inquiries to explain how we in the West came to think about exercise and fitness and how that way of thinking is a major barrier to being fit. 
“This is one of my motives: How can exercise become a normal part of everyday life?” Young said to me via e-mail. “Exercise is often a fad for buffed twentysomethings or a spectator sport. How can ordinary people reclaim the pleasures and rewards of exercise, over a lifetime?” 
Young argues that much of our thinking comes from the philosophical separation of mind and body, a dualism that permeates Western thought. We as a society put more value on intelligence and mental ability than the body and its improvement, he says. When the body is worked out, it’s to fix a deficiency. Combined with the stereotypes of dumb jocks, it creates “an outlook that sees physical and mental exertion as somehow in conflict,” he writes in his book. 
“People are living sedentary lives and trying to overcome this by treating their bodies as machines needing a tuneup,” Young told me. 
So what should be the purpose of exercise? According to Young, exercise is striving toward wholeness and a fuller life. Fitness is a quest for character, virtue, beauty and pleasure. The point of intelligent exercise is full embodiment of that, a commitment to working out the body and the mind together. 
Young looks to the ancient Greeks, who saw fitness as the way to push themselves physically and mentally and to reap the rewards of that effort. “This is the Greek lesson,” Young writes in his book. “What we get out of the gym is more than a buffed body — it is a more defined version of ourselves.”

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