17
Jun
12

Why work out?

There are lots of reasons to work out.

(1) Some people work out because they want to be healthy. These people tend to be lean and wiry, as they’re just not that concerned with being large or strong, because the strength one can exert is not related to how long one will live or how resistant to disease one will be.

(2) Other people are training for a sport or specific task. Farmers need to be strong to fulfill their daily tasks (or at least they used to need to be strong before everything became mechanized). Athletes are another obvious example. If you have to push someone out of the way to win, you need to be big and strong.

(3) Still other people lift for vanity. They want to look good and don’t necessarily care that much about being actually strong or actually healthy. These sort of people, I find, are very attracted to steroids, supplements, and tans. I’m not trying to cast aspersions (hell, athletes love steroids it seems…) but the purpose of these people in lifting only lends itself to exercise methods that others would consider to be shortcuts. For example, creatine will inflate one’s biceps, but won’t make one stronger. You have to actually lift for that.

(4) Still others lift for an internal desire to suffer for a goal and to maintain discipline toward it. This used to be my main justification for weightlifting, and make no mistake, IT TOO IS A KIND OF VANITY. These people are usually very introspective people who think a lot and could not be happy with themselves if they were not pushing their limits. How many times have you heard someone say “I lift because otherwise I would feel so lazy.” These people have a complex (sadistic? abusive?) relationship with themselves and are not driven to work out to look good for others, but are driven to be tolerable to THEMSELVES.

I canvassed these various reasons to admit that I primarily lifted for (4), though of course there was a little of (1) and (3) mixed in too. I doubt anyone works out for just one reason. But I also mentioned these reasons, because I’ve only recently began thinking about another  reason to be in good shape and to lift weights, etc.

The reason is that working out sharpens reality, in particular, it makes the world more accessible. It opens the entire world up to your effort and cunning, and the feeling is quite magical. The best way I can think of to make this point is to reference a psychology experiment I worked on. In the experiment, we asked people to estimate how high some stairs were, and we also found out if they were working toward an exercise goal. The people who perceived themselves to be overweight or out of shape judged the stairs to be taller than those who were not. This is not a surprising result given the long list of results in which the perception of the world is shaped by our beliefs, physical capabilities, past experiences, and on and on. Our brain is automatically creating the type of world that we could and would like to inhabit. To a degree, the world already makes sense to us when we encounter it because our brain is working behind the scenes to present it to us that way.

So someone who is strong or fast, or able to run long distances, will pursue the stairs as a viable route when the elevator is broken or will see a shortcut over rocks when someone weaker would not. Such a person may see opportunities for jokes that involve moving heavy objects or may more readily help someone get their bag from an overhead compartment, because the bag doesn’t appear, to their brain, to be that burdensome to lift.

Rationality is not just in the brain. It’s in the world as well, embodied, as it were, in our bodies and environments. In this way, working out is a way to become, in a very abstract way, more alive.

 

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