The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

More Proof Exercise Is Bad for You

Posted on | December 27, 2010 | 10 Comments

A marathon runner is diagnosed with stress damage to her gluteal tendons, a malady called “dead butt syndrome.”

Exercise is to yuppies what Islam is to suicide bombers. “Fitness” has become a cult among the college-educated and upwardly mobile.

Tom Wolfe noticed this phenomenon nearly 30 years ago when he described the “social X-rays” — those bone-thin yuppie women who worked out constantly. “Fitness” and “health” are related but not entirely coterminous concepts, and the latter is not necessarily the purpose of the former, at least from a sociological perspective.

Fitness — typically running or weight training, but also cycling or any form of exercise requiring a gym membership — is intrinsically competitive, and thereby serves as a marker of superior status. The disciples of Fitness are engaged in a form of what Thorsten Veblen would have described as “invidious display.”

One cannot help but notice that the Cult of Fitness has arisen during the same period that traditional religion in the West has declined. It is as if people have embraced physical righteousness in a society whose standards of moral or spiritual righteousness have become so ambiguous.

Also note that the instability of marriage seems implicated in this trend. Divorce is now commonplace, and the median age at first marriage (which was about 21 in 1960) is now about 27. People are staying single longer and, when they do marry, there’s a greater likelihood that their marriages will end in divorce.

So whereas couples once married while still in full natural vigor of their youthful attractiveness and then grew older together, today’s yuppies must attempt to extend their peak attractiveness much longer — while they finish law school, get an MBA, etc. — and the Cult of Fitness is their safeguard against becoming unattractively flabby before they land a mate. You’ll not be surprised to learn that Jen A. Miller, who describes her marathon-induced muscle damage in the New York Times article linked above, is 30 and single.

My wife and I are happily middle-aged and neither of us is in danger of “Dead Butt Syndrome.” Our cardiovascular health may not be ideal, but at least our butts are still alive.

Of course, Professor Glenn Reynolds — whose link to that article called it to my attention — is all the time linking to health-and-medicine stories, but I think he linked that New York Times article just because “Dead Butt Syndrome” would be such a great name for a punk-rock band.


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