If you could have good health from a pill, would you still exercise?

Lately I’ve gone out of my way to avoid articles and posts I feel are deliberately trolling the internet, mainly because my button that allows me to give a fuck about such things has been pressed with such force and regularity that it is now broken.  Some media outlets are worse about this than others, like Slate, which is basically known these days for turning out contrarian opinion pieces that get people all bent out of shape, which leads them to all write counter-posts of their own, which in turn makes the rest of us start checking out real estate listings for shacks in the middle of the last wifi-less place on earth.

I have a suspicion that a piece Slate published earlier this week was intended to do just that, and I would have resisted my urge to counter-post had I not found her argument really interesting.  It launched me off on an interesting thought experiment, and I realized that I’m curious to hear what other people think about this as well.

The essay is entitled “Taking a Pill While Watching TV Just as Good as Exercise, Study Finds,” and is written by economist Emily Oster, who last surfaced in the world of the internets when she wrote a piece debunking a lot of the no-nos of pregnancy, like drinking alcohol and eating soft cheese and such.  In her recent Slate post, she makes the following argument:

Think back to that study showing exercise and drugs are equally effective at preventing mortality. What we learn is that the benefits to the two things are the same—preventing mortality. As for the cost: For most people, taking a pill every day is preferable to having to adopt a rigorous exercise program. In truth, the coverage of this study should have been more like, “Exercise is no better for you than taking a pill and sitting on your butt in front of the TV.”

She also talks about the cost of exercise in terms of gear, “opportunity cost”(or the time spent) and also the fact that a lot of people just plain hate to exercise.  She goes on to say:

If we think exercise is free and easy, then of course they should. But once we recognize that it has a cost—monetary, yes, but also in enjoyment terms—this is much less clear. Let’s stop putting moral judgments on exercise, or the lack thereof.

(I bolded that last part because I completely agree with her. More on that later.)

Before we begin, I just want to point out a few flaws with her argument:

  1. The drugs she refers to comprise a drug treatment aimed at treating heart disease mortality, but heart disease is only one of the conditions that can be helped by regular exercise.  Everything from anxiety and depression to osteoporosis to metabolic syndrome has been found to respond to a regular exercise regimen.
  2. It’s not as simple as pop a pill and the health problem vanishes.  Most medication has side effects, some quite severe.  (Four-hour erections, anyone?) A medication that works for some people may not work for all, and may be downright dangerous for some.
  3. Medication costs money. Often times it costs a lot of money.  And not everyone has the kind of health insurance that will provide them with affordable access to that kind of medication.  (And of course, there’s also the fact that insurance isn’t free.)  That might change under the Affordable Care Act but it remains to be seen.

All this said, I find the concept underlying her argument intriguing, and so I wondered, if medical researchers were to develop a pill that could provide all the physical health benefits of regular exercise, and that pill had no side effects, and it was as inexpensive as a bottle of aspirin – would I still continue to be as physically active as I am?

I thought about this for a while, and here is my answer:

Now, if my idea of being physically active was in line with the popular concept of “working out,” which generally seems to mean “plod away on the elliptical while watching Judge Alex yell at a divorced couple fighting over a broke-down Datsun,” then that pill could not get in my mouth fast enough.

That’s not how I roll, though.  I consider myself an endurance athlete, which means the things I do – all the miles I run and cycle, the weights I lift, the laps I swim – are not just because I’m trying to be healthy and all buff-looking.  (Although I’m not going to lie, those are nice benefits.)  It’s because I enjoy doing them, because I am passionate about pushing my physical and mental limits, and because I take a lot of pleasure in testing myself against other people who share my passions.  Trust me, if I was trying to just be healthy, there are a lot of much easier and less time-consuming ways to do that than training for a marathon.

Not only that, being physically active has taken me to some pretty amazing places.  I have run along the Pacific Coast Highway and the northern coast of New Providence in the Bahamas.  I have snorkeled with barracuda and (gulp) a shark off the Florida Keys.  I’ve watched the sun come up while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, and I’ve run at night with a cloud of bats flying over my head.  I have stood in crowds of thousands of people, all of us anxiously waiting for the warning gun to sound, and I’ve exchanged silent nods of recognition with other runners and cyclists out on the trails.

I could go on and on but you get my drift.  Television is really amazing, don’t get me wrong. I am as obsessed as anyone with a good show (and there are a lot of them). But it’s one thing to watch other people experiencing things through a screen, and it’s another thing to experience them for yourself.  I am trying to do less of the former and more of the latter.

I had similar thoughts while reading about the science teacher who lost 37 pounds in one month by eating only McDonald’s.  That’s great and all, but he still only ate at McDonald’s for a whole month.  I mean, I could totally strap a bag full of their fries to my face like a feedbag during my monthly, but sometimes I’d like a fish taco, or maybe a piece of lasagna, or some roasted brussels sprouts, or maybe some kind of food I’ve never even heard of before.   Sure, I could probably find a way to be healthy while eating McDonald’s for every day of my life, but it would be a rather limited culinary existence.

It’s helpful to have numbers by which to gauge things, but there’s also something to be said for the less quantifiable aspects of life, the experiences, the sensations, the memories – the things that can’t be sealed up and delivered in neat little packages.  So yes, I would continue to be as physically active as I am, even if a pill were available that could give me good health with no side effects at all.

Now, check it out – I’ve just laid out all of my reasons why I would keep being physically active even if medication rendered it moot.  What I didn’t mention is that I think the invention of such a thing would actually be a really great idea.  For one, it would be good for people who cannot be physically active for whatever reason, like if you have an autoimmune disorder or chronic pain or a neurological situation, but I also would be okay with it because, as Oster said, it would do away with the moral judgements put on exercise.  People who really would rather spend their time reading or working on crafts or whatever, they wouldn’t have to make themselves do things they don’t enjoy just to have a healthy body.  I don’t know, maybe I’m just not Puritanical enough, but I don’t believe suffering is a necessary component of happiness.

This is a long-winded way of saying, absolutely no judgment on my end if you respond and say that you would happily take the pill and never lift a weight or run a mile again.

Okay, your turn.  What would you do, and why?

50 responses to “If you could have good health from a pill, would you still exercise?

  1. I call bullshit on this article, like many on Slate these days.

    As you pointed out, exercise has proven benefits for combating stress, anxiety, diabetes, depression, etc. Therefore, in addition to popping the pill for heart disease, most of us would need a pill reminder boxes and it would be flashing constantly.

    Aside from the fact that I’m a flake when it comes to taking pills and would still die, I exercise because, like you, it takes me places. Fresh air + endorphins are a much more intoxicating cocktail than any drug regimen. Plus, I am not sure I would be a happy person if I didn’t feel strong.

    So, yes, without a doubt, I choose YOU exercise!

    • Yeah, it took me about two minutes to poke a bunch of holes in her argument. I had to embellish it to come up with one that I thought would work for the thought experiment, and then there was a whole question about whether you’d include the mental health benefits, the aesthetic benefits….but even if a pill could make you instantly beautiful and happy and healthy, I’d still want the experiences.

      • Exactly. Plus, there is one thing a pill cannot provide: The surprises of nature and bumping into strangers when unexpected, and these “highs” (so to speak, the nature high, as well as the social high) are some of life’s greatest. (I hope that made sense.) Not to mention, after an exercise, a great rush of pride fills through my veins. Anyways, as I always say, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

      • Yep, it makes perfect sense. One of my favorite surprise experiences happened during a recent run at dusk, when I noticed a huge flock of bats swarming over my head. When my initial shock and panic faded, I relaxed and enjoyed the experience, because it’s not something that happens very often! Also my husband and I encountered a man known as the Flip Flop man while out on a training run a few weeks ago – he’s famous for running really long distances while wearing only a pair of flip-flops – and he ran with us for a little while and talked with us. It was pretty outstanding, I have to say.

        Anyways, long way of saying I totally agree.

  2. You know, at this point I just would. (rant alert…)

    I’m 56 and allowed to consume maybe 1,200 calories a day for the next year — let alone my lifetime — if I wish to shed the 40+ pounds I REALLY have to lose — 60 is more like it. I want to fucking cut off a leg I am so fed up and frustrated by the whole thing. But I will not spend my life never again having a glass of wine, (yes, more than the shitty 5 oz that is a “portion”), or enjoying a sweet, gooey dessert. I will not spend my life bitchy from hunger — which you have written about. So, exercise! Wow…can’t wait.

    I loathe the gym…and live in NY where it can be bitterly cold for many long months. I may not want to walk outside for an hour every single day and freeze my butt off, so the gym is the only safe, warm option — my apartment is too small. I also work alone at home all day and am dying for social interaction — which biking or walking alone don’t in any way address, even though I do enjoy them.

    My only joyful and social cardio activity is jazz dance class, and I do that only twice a week. The rest of it is tedious, annoying, loathsome elliptical-time. I hate gyms with such a passion it is hard to describe — and the issue is not, frankly, the sheer boredom. It’s how UGLY they are! Nature is gorgeous — of course we’re happier exercising outdoors. People are not slamming weights or yammering away. We’re not surrounded by black vinyl with fluorescent lights glaring in our eyes. Jesus.

    I recently started (which feels truly shameful) taking a cholesterol medication. The first in my life. But given the insanity of making a living in a dying industry freelance in a costly place…I just don’t have hours and hours and hours to blow exercising or traveling to a pretty exotic place to scuba dive. Much as I would prefer it. Even hiring a trainer is expensive — versus the $$$$ I need to spend right now for eye exam, dental work, etc….

    I think many people avoid exercise, as I do, because — after a few decades of fighting rising costs and stagnant incomes — it’s just one more damn task to avoid on a long to-do list. Many of us feel overwhelmed and beleaguered by just making enough money to fund (hah) our hopefully-extended lives…

    I know how much you love your sports, and admire that zeal. I was a nationally ranked saber fencer in my mid-30s, with all the time, training and competing that required. I loved it. Today I am scrambling financially and have a husband I want to see at night and on weekends.

    Today, I suspect that many broke, time-crunched people feel as I do, no matter what other very real pleasures we would lose by popping a pill.

    • I laughed out loud at the comment about the shitty 5 oz that is the “acceptable” portion of wine.

      As always you make a lot of really excellent points in your inimitable way, about how a lot of people just do not have the time and energy because they are too busy just trying to keep their shit together. I totally get it, and that I am beyond privileged to be able to do what I do. Your comment has reminded me to be grateful for that, once again.

    • that was really eye-opening to read (and funny, frankly. you’re very funny, even as you “rant!”)! thanks for the reminder that everybody is walking different paths. : )

      • Life looks very different for me than it did even 10 years ago. I once would have eagerly agreed with Caitlin on all her points. I’d like to, but not right now.

    • I agree with you about wine portion thing… I’ve noticed ever since one of the major news networks (can’t remember which one) did a piece on women and alcoholism, it seems like every few weeks there is another “news” story about the dangers of the ladies pouring too much wine per glass! I find that the whole thing really just makes me want to pour myself another oversized glass of wine in response…

    • This is an excellent comment. I agree with lots of it – especially the time thing. I only recently moved in with someone for the first time in my life (aged nearly 37) and I want to spend time with him! At the moment I work out 2 evenings + 1 weekend day, and I often feel like I’m neglecting my partner for the gym. But the good thing is that I’m seeing him *more* now than I did when we were just dating. Plus he doesn’t feel neglected, so that eases my guilt a little!

      I think many people who adhere to the “eat, lift, sleep, repeat” mantra don’t have partners to see, houses to clean, jobs to do, children to raise etc etc!

      • Thanks. In my 30s, I devoted two nights a week to fencing and almost every weekend to competitions. I loved it. But my life is very different now and so are my priorities. I love playing sports, especially anything social and outdoors — I loathe “exercise.” I doubt many people really enjoy treadmills, ellipticals and weights. If so, good for them.

      • I think part of what makes it easier for me to devote quite a bit of time to this is a) no kids and b) a partner who shares the same passions. But yeah, I also like to maintain my relationships with him AND with people who aren’t into my sports, and there are often times when faced with a decision between going for a run and hanging out with a friend/loved one that I choose the hang-out.

      • I agree with all of it! When I was single with no kids I trained for half irons between 12 and 18 hours a week. And I did pretty well. Now, I feel like shit if I decide to do any kind of workout while I could be with my kid. If I get 6 hours a week in I’m calling myself awesome. I miss the competition, I miss being competitive, I miss preparation as my mindset rather than weight control/general fitness. So unmotivated by fitness…In fact, as I sit her typing I have blown off a swim in favor picking my kid up early from day care. That’s four weeks in a row.

        Where’s my pill? I’d take it!

      • I think about this a lot regarding kids. I don’t have any now but I’m not ruling them out in the future. I’m basically the definition of ambivalent when it comes to children – if they happen, they happen and if they don’t, they don’t – and one of the things I consider is that if we were to have kids, how that would affect the fact that both my husband and I love this stuff. I know people do it all the time but it seems like quite a challenge, and I’m not sure I’d be up to it.

    • You write: “My only joyful and social cardio activity is jazz dance class, and I do that only twice a week.” Believe it or not, that’s more exercise than 75% of our nation, and a LOT more exercise than 90% of women over the age of 50. Twice a week, doing something you love, getting you out of the house, with other people, with music (even if it’s recorded, still a good thing) — that’s WONDERFUL! And, you have to admit, it’s MUCH better than a pill! I consider your weekly “only” routine a good model for anyone in your age range. You should be proud that you are able to do such exercises, and you deserve to treat yourself as a result.

  3. If it really was a simple as taking a pill for good health, I still would go to the gym to lift weights, etc. I personally like the feeling of being strong, and I can’t imagine how popping a pill for a generic version of health could ever do that for me. For me, my happiest exercise moments are when I’m outside, hiking or backpacking. I don’t believe that a vitamin-like pill can help prepare me for the rigors of the mountains!

  4. as weird as it sounds, i never worked out for “health” reasons. when i first joined a gym, it was because my eating disorder dictated to me how many calories i needed to burn every day before i went to be. (see also: NOT healthy). after treatment (rounds 1-3 but who’s counting) i got into yoga and found a quiet place in my mind for the first time in a decade, and kept going back because of that quiet. it improved my singing, my sleep, the way i looked at everyday events…it changed me in every way. then after my mom died i started running – i had always dabbled in it, and had already run my first half marathon, but after she passed it seemed like the only time i felt healed was when i was pounding the pavement.

    and now i lift all of this heavy crap because it’s damn fun and i like that it’s weird and that people don’t expect it. training is tough and exciting and exhausting, but i love it. i love competing. i love feeling kind of like a badass in the weight room. i even don’t mind the stupid spandex singlets we have to wear at meets. but whether it’s powerlifting or running or yoga, or even my cardio-crazed eating disorder days, it’s always (okay, maybe not the cardio stuff) been something other than exercise, ya know?

    that became way longer than i intended and only about half as clear.

  5. If such a “miracle” pill could give me good health, I would both take it, and still continue with my normal exercise program (or, perhaps, ramp it up a bit more due to being healthier? ). The reason for that is because I don’t really exercise for health and to look good – as Caitlin pointed out, they’re just cool extras. I would need to keep on exercising, as my chosen sport is a form of martial arts, and no matter what drug exists to make me perfectly healthy, it cannot give me the knowledge that I need to preform in said sport. A drug cannot teach me the proper technique for punching, or a more effective way to preform a kick, or to be able to react calmly to situations when my person may be threatened. And considering the idea that having such knowledge and such ability is something that makes me feel more secure, as I know that in a situation where I may be harmed, I have at least something to fall back on, I wouldn’t give up exercise for anything in the world.

  6. 100% yes I would continue to exercise. My trainer and I talked about this just this morning… I’ve always been “thin” which passes for fit and healthy, which gave me a free pass in society. But at age 53 my health is becoming increasingly important, and no pill… nothing… can surpass the pride I feel in mastering clean & jerks or snatches… Or learning handstands… Or stepping into the very scary water of my first Tri. I work out for what happens to me on the inside, the rest is a total side benefit.

  7. Exercise isn’t a passion for me. If I could, I would spend every second of my life doing something creative. Writing, drawing, painting, photography, but mostly the textile arts (sewing, knitting, weaving, designing…) But I can’t spend my time doing only that. I have two young daughters and a husband that I adore and who require a LOT of my time. When I do have free time for me, my first choice is always a creative endeavor of some sort.

    But some of the time, I choose to exercise during my free time. I do it because I hurt my lower back during a cardio kickboxing class years ago. If I don’t do my core work, lower back pain starts creeping back in and it affects my enjoyment of life. I want to be strong so that I can keep up with my girls. So that I never have to say no to a fun activity because my body can’t follow.

    If there was a pill that I could take, with no side effects, that would keep me healthy and strong enough to enjoy life, I would absolutely take it and quit the exercise that I’m doing right now (actually, that I’ve just finished doing!) However, I don’t think I would quit all form of physical activity. If there’s one thing that I will just spontaneously do anytime, it’s dancing. I enjoy it so much! Bars with good music and no dance floor are a special kind of torture for me… But apart from dancing around the house, I don’t do it anymore. Dancing doesn’t provide me with the type of exercise I need to be strong in my everyday life. I’ve had to make choices and dance classes just didn’t make the cut. If I could stop the core work, it’s likely that I would be taking some sort of dance class right now. Any kind! Twice or maybe even three times a week wouldn’t take me away from my family too much and it would still allow me enough time for the creative activities that I’m passionate about.

  8. To be totally honest, what drives me in the gym is not health related at all. I love the feeling of being strong, I am a competitive person by nature, and at this point in my life, beating my own deadlift PRs is as close as I come to athletic competition. I’m even vaguely entertaining the idea of a powerlifting meet, but that’s neither here nor there. I guess my point is, I lift and train because I love it, not because I want to control my blood pressure. So, no, I wouldn’t take the pill, but I understand 100% why some people would, and I would probably actually recommend it to some people in my family!

  9. I would find the costco bulk jumbo bottle and just take the pill.
    If there was such a thing as a book addict, it would be me. There are not many activities in my life that I do not resent, at times, for taking up time I could be reading. When I can find a nice casual rational un-cult-like yoga class I can get into a good routine with those, and otherwise, if it is not a practical part of my day (walking to actually get somewhere) or a special event (camping trip) it is just not going to happen because I really just do not have enough interest. I figured out about mid-December that walking to work would only take about 10 minutes longer than my street-car ride. Walking therefore doesn’t take extra time, does accomplish a necessary task, would save transit money, and would mean I would be able to tell my doctor I’m not completely sedentary. On the other hand, it is hard to read while walking that far, but I can definitely read on the streetcar. I waffled, but then remembered the library lends audiobooks. So I’m bribing myself – I can only listen to the audiobooks while walking. It’s early days for this strategy, but so far it is working out. Yesterday I found myself trying to come up with lunch ideas that I could eat while walking so that I could continue my book over my lunch hour.
    But seriously, guys: the pill.

  10. I would definitely not change my workout regime at all, because it keeps me not only physically balanced but also mentally balanced. I’ve been tested on this theory this past week — I had an unexpected abdominal surgery that has reduced me to barely being able to walk — and I would pay large sums of money and take any pill available if it would suddenly render me able to run, do yoga, or just general move about as I pleased.

    I understand people’s complaints about time and money. But, we’re also incredibly lucky to have these amazing bodies that are capable of so much. The true waste, in my opinion, is not to take advantage of them.

  11. I suspect I would at least make an adjustment to how I exercise. I would definitely keep doing some as there’s absolutely no substitute for the mental kick that a workout adds to my day. I didn’t exercise much for years and when I did start, it drove so many other changes in my life that I’m excited to see what other changes will come as I keep it up. However I do think I would reduce how frequently or how long I work out for. We live in such a time-strapped world so I’m sure I’d end up bargaining a little bit of extra time for a little less exercise. Absolutely no way I’d give it up though.

    It would be a real shame if we became a world of pill-popping people with no exercise whatsoever, but for those who can’t or won’t (and there’s a definite divide between those two groups), it could quite literally be a life-saver.

    • Every time I’ve tried to read this I’ve been at work and the web server blocks it for “pornography.” (Srsly WTF, web server?) I am saving it for tonight when I get home.

  12. I don’t know – in this thought experiment we have a totally equivalent and side-effect free pill? I’d probably take it – I mostly exercise because it’s fun, but part of me exercises because I feel I “have” to keep up with the amount I did the week before and the week before that. Having the pill would allow me to do a hardcore class and then rest if I felt I needed it until I felt better. Or, like right now, when I have a stupid injury I wouldn’t need to worry about not being able to work out – or push myself through it anyway and break myself more! That would be nice!

    • Yes, no side-effects and all the benefits. Makes sense about how useful it would be when you are injured or sick. I’ve had minor injuries and illness that have kept me from being able to do my business and I often go a bit batty during that time because I am so dependent on the physical and emotional release that comes with getting my sweat on. But then…is that something that can really be encapsulated in a pill? It’s hard to tell, although neurobiology/chemistry tells me it probably is.

  13. Hi Caitlin,

    1. Emily Oster is one of the few Slate contributors worthy of respect. She is an economist at U-Chicago, and has done some interesting research on HIV in Africa. Also, economists who write for the popular press all have one thing in common: slate-like counter-intuitive arguments.

    2. You’re usually a pretty good priv-checker, so I’m surprised you missed it on this one. Think about the masses of people in this country (or the world) who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to squeeze enough time out of the day to get their 20-30 minutes of walking done. Lots of people work multiple demanding jobs, or are juggling child care by day and work by nights. A single (affordable) daily pill that could impact their health in the same way that moderate exercise does would be the biggest gain to national productivity, well-being, and public health than anything else imaginable!

    3. In a similar vein, Big Macs, while certainly not a recommended dietary staple, contain enough quality (protein, fat) calories-per-dollar that we really ought to consider replacing international food aid programs with a daily airdrop of Mickey D’s. :) While perhaps not great for long-term health (Vitamin C, calcium, etc), a couple of daily Big Macs would be good enough to keep people alive and functioning and would certainly provide more nutrition than a diet that consists primarily of nutritionally-empty grains. Moreover, our Big Mac Export Program could even help shift the economy of many poor, primarily-agrarian countries away from labor-intensive, slow agriculture and toward more modern industries, lifting millions of people out of poverty. /gets down off of soapbox. :D

    4. I would totally take the pill, and then probably still work out anyway. Why not?

    • Yeah, I kind of whiffed it on #2. In my (very meager) defense, I have spent the last week on sinus medication and my thinking hasn’t been quite as sharp as I’d like, but once Caitlin/broadsideblog pointed it out upstream, I was like OH DUH, RIGHT. I try to be aware of my privileges as much as possible but the perils of being privileged (especially when you are stupidly privileged as I am) is that you can often be blind to said privileges, which I was in this instance.

      Re: Big Macs – I think my point was more that you could sustain decent health on a diet that comes entirely from McDonald’s but that you would lose out on a lot of the other aspects that make things useful/enjoyable about food, like variety of flavors and such. I’m not a knee-jerk McDonald’s hater – see my thing about the feedbag of fries – but I also think it’s just one narrow bit of food experience in a whole world of food experience, even for those of us who don’t have a lot of time and money.

      Finally, re: Emily Oster – I loved the stuff she did about the overblown risks of pregnancy, and I thought she was onto something interesting here, which is why I wrote about it in the context of taking it seriously. I just think she missed a few factors in her CBA. But then, this was a contrarian piece for Slate, not a full-on essay, so it’s possible that she thought of this stuff but just decided it wasn’t necessary for inclusion.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment, always love a new perspective (which was the point of this post!).

  14. I love the way moving makes me feel… while I’m doing it. I don’t think any pill could give me that. I would definitely continue to lift, walk, stretch, foam roll, do yoga, etc. It feels good!

    • Burpees are evil. Just evil.

      I thought that post was interesting, and another way of weeding out the unnecessary stuff we feel obligated to do for the sake of health while helping to identify the things we do because we take pleasure from doing them.

  15. Oh, I’d probably take the pill and then do the exercise I really like anyway. Since I would be super duper healthy I can imagine that I would be able to lift forever and not get sore and that my PF would vanish so I could run as far as I wanted. And I could deflect bullets with my biceps!

    I don’t know if you read the Fat Nutritionist, but she asked a related question on her blog a couple months back, about the morality around “good foods”: “Would eating kale chips feel somehow different than eating a calorically equivalent amount of potato chips with a phytochemical-micronutrient chaser in pill form?” The commentary is interesting. Here’s a link: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/who-are-you-when-you-eat-kale-chips/

    • I love it! Like super-charging your body for maximum awesomeness.

      I don’t read the Fat Nutritionist regularly but every time I read one of her posts I’m impressed. I’m going to add her to my RSS reader now.

      You are right, the commentary on that post is interesting. I do think that a lot of the conversation around diet and exercise is fueled in part by a near-religious sense of moral purity (which I think would also explain why woo seems to have such a prominent role in these things as well) and so it’s not really about what’s healthiest for a particular body as much as it is about feeling as though you are doing something that is inherently virtuous. It’s fascinating to me but also troubling because the side effects – body shaming, cruelty disguised as concern, an uncritical acceptance of pseudo-scientific bullshit – are so deleterious.

  16. I definitely would keep exercising. I, too, have been bitten by the exercise bug and have started racing triathlons. I freaking love my long runs or an 80 mile bike ride. I don’t feel right if I don’t start my day off with a walk. I am not thin or lean, though, because the exercise makes me hungry and I have a sweet tooth. But I feel soooo much better when I am in shape. I also like that the strength and endurance allow me to try other things like whitewater kayaking or simply being able to walk around a new city all day without getting tired (it does annoy my family when I don’t get tired while we are traveling:)).

    • I also love long runs and long bike rides. I don’t know what it is about runs and bike rides that require hours to finish them, but I really enjoy them, especially afterwards when I feel so calm and tired. I can’t do them all the time, because life, but I do cherish them when I can make them happen.

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  19. It took me a week to get back to this, but thought I’d weigh in. Such an interesting question. I peeked at some of the articles you mentioned and if “just as good”,means just lowering heart disease, there are so many other benefits we would lose by not exercising. Earlier last year I read Spark, about exercise and the brain, and it talked all about how exercise helps with lowering our anxiety, helps with depression, and general well being. A pill will not do that. And also, you just feel great after stretching. And flexing those muscles. And being strong. You may have a perfectly fine heart with that pill but I would think I’d feel like a weakling…not so great. And of course, I just love getting outside and moving and hiking and doing all that fun stuff outside. So the answer is yes, I would still exercise as long as I’m able to. I still work really hard trying to find that perfect balance between how little time needs to be spent doing “formal” exercise inside, with weights and strength training to maintain my current strength/health level. And if I can get that right, and to a minimum, I can take more time later to do the outdoor activities I love and enjoy, and that can be shared with family too.

    • Yeah, I personally have found a lot of benefits to being physically active that would be hard to encapsulate in a pill. I’m finding that the more time I spend staring at a screen, for instance – and the irony of saying this in a blog comment on the internet is not lost on me! – the more I’ve come to value actually experiencing things instead of looking for things that can kinda replicate them.

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  21. Pingback: Thought Experiment: Would You Exercise if You Didn’t Have to? | Long View Hill·

  22. I would definitely continue to exercise simply because I love the way exercise makes me feel. And this blog post made me realize that I might actually be an athlete, though I’ve never considered myself one before.

  23. Pingback: Would you stop exercising if taking a pill would guarantee you good health? | Healthy Chelsea·

  24. I would take the pill for part of the year. I love cycling, taking vinyasa yoga classes, and I even love plodding along on the elliptical, provided I have my ipod. But I work 32 hours a week and go to college full time, and there are some days I literally don’t have 5 minutes to myself for a whole 16 hours. During the semester my days off are spent doing homework and I pretty much cease to exist in the eyes of my family and friends. I can really only work out twice a week.

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