Why I wrote this article: Help myself question the new found love for extreme fitness. And to understand If under the cover of fitness I was running from something else.
Everyone around me is so focused on fitness these days that I feel the current age is the most physically fit set of humans in eons. Everyone is very serious about their exercising routines, a lot of them have adopted running, cycling, hiking, yoga etc. There is a plethora of information available on the internet for the kind of exercises you can or should do based on your body type. In the last couple of years, a large number of fitness companies have come up that coach you for exercises, connect you with like-minded people around you so that you can stay motivated, helps you with your diets by suggesting recipes and you can also log what you eat. There are so many wearable devices available now where you can track your exercise up to the level of madness. In terms of numbers, the whole fitness industry has grown from $81 billion in 2015 to $85.2 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach $87.5 billion by 2018 in revenues. Indeed these numbers are very interesting and an exponential growth is predicted for the fitness industry.
Even in corporates and in politics we have executives throwing fitness challenges to each other and their teams. The same becomes viral on platforms like LinkedIn and you can see it everywhere around you.
I have also been a part of this fad. I exercise almost 6 to 7 days a week. Apart from the regular gym, I might also go for a swim or some other form of exercise. People around me spend at least 3–4 hours in some form of physical exercise. And no one questions this. We all say that person is so fit and encourage them and everyone around us.
I always had a feeling that something is strange. Out of 24 hours a day 8 hours you sleep, you are left with 16 hours out of that if 4 hours you are spending on exercising you are left with 12 hours. And I am sure you will be spending a couple of hours of commute, some chores and yes the social media etc. When are we actually working? Or doing what we want to do? What is the effective number of hours of focused work?
Why are we spending so much time on exercising and staying fit? Please note I am not saying that staying physically fit is not important I just want to question the imbalance that is there. As per science exercising produces dopamine aka “happy hormones” that elevates our mood and makes us ‘feel’ happy. Does that mean we are spending extra hours here so that we get that extra dopamine rush and we can feel happy?
Does that mean that in reality we are escaping or running away from issues in our life that make us unhappy? Maybe yes, maybe running helps us do this both literally and figuratively. I think ‘super fitness’ is the new midlife crisis disguised very neatly. And it is a cycle which you cannot break until you stop running and start thinking. It is working in surreptitious ways and with a massive intensity which makes it difficult to recognize and hence to break the loop.
Think about it- staying fit has always been considered a very good habit. Our ancestors, even our parents they all go out for a morning walk and some exercises. It is taught in our schools. So we never think that thinking about ‘staying fit’ is wrong or that it can lead us to anything ‘bad’. But what we are not seeing is that everything we have learned in school had balance or was practiced in ‘moderation’. Our brains forgot this last word. And what we remembered was just ‘staying fit’ and hence we never questioned ourselves when we went off balance. Satan disguised like Santa?
Physically fit does not equate to mentally fit. Not everyone who is in the best of shape is happy when they go to work or enter their homes. You will hear a lot of people saying that I am most happy when I am gyming or when I am running etc. Why do not we hear them ever say that I am happy when I am with my family or friends, or when I am at my work because maybe they are not. And their fitness routine just helps them ‘run away’ from these realities. It could be a bad family life or a job that you do not like or a relationship or something else you want to avoid.
I started talking to a couple of my friends who were spending a lot of time on their fitness. They would take training for a couple of hours every day. Every weekend would go on a hike or some other ‘fitness’ related activity. Over a cup of coffee, I asked them what is going on- they looked very happy and fit. While we were talking and they were sharing their routine I realized none of them was spending any time at home. They would leave early morning for their training and come late. By the time they reached home they were very tired and would just doze off. On digging deeper one of them said I have no work as of now and I do not know what to do with my time, If I stay at home I will go mad. I don’t know what to do and hence I go for my training.
The other one confessed staying at home causes a lot of tension between him and his family and hence he has set up a routine where he leaves early runs, exercises and plays for a couple of hours. By evening he is so tired that he just wants to sleep. This helps him avoid any conversation with his family and helps maintains peace.
I am sure this is a case with a lot of people out there. If film actors, media personalities and athletes spend hours on their training every day, I understand, it is a part of their job. A good and well-chiseled body helps them get new business. If they will not do it they will not survive.
But is it the same for others. We really need to spend some time with ourselves, go deep and understand what are we running form. We need to address those issues and not use fitness as an excuse to not have those hard conversations with our family, our partner, ourselves or whatever we are trying to avoid. We need a reality check.
Take a break from running and start thinking.