EL PASO – I can’t help thinking that joggers should pick up trash along their chosen route. It’s a small thought, only a little serious. Of course, runners are going too fast to do that, and carrying a bag would slow them down or make them lopsided. Still, it seems like a shame to use all those calories and all that energy and not accomplish something more… than image, than a cardio workout, than discipline, than a shin splint.
Seriously, runners have very high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, ranging from one in five to three out of four, depending on the study, time frame and seriousness of injury. One study reported that about half of a random sample of 10K entrants had an injury in the last two years. If we just slowed to a walk, we could pick up litter and get some exercise.
One part of the compulsion I understand. We evolved to run to escape bad things like tigers and avalanches, and to catch good things like food, or to send urgent messages over mountains and deserts with no roads. We didn’t evolve, I don’t think, to buy fancy shoes to plant our feet, with the full weight of our bodies above them, repeatedly on pavement for a frivolous purpose.
People ought to be fit and healthy, and it isn’t just running that annoys me in some small way. Gym memberships do too, or rather the culture of them. If a person wants to be buff, I say work for Habitat for Humanity and build houses for people. Perhaps I am of the generation that attaches real and visceral significance to the word “work.” It could be housework, yard work, or any other physical task. We should all do more of it; it was how we were designed. And we should all play a sport or a musical instrument. We should dance and move and be delighted with our muscles.
But now, work is associated more with sitting, and even physical tasks are increasingly performed by power tools. In the yard, there are riding mowers for large spaces and weed whackers for small ones. I have seen the push mower of my childhood be unrecognizable to a younger and more privileged generation. On the construction site, there are power saws, drills, and nail guns. In the kitchen, there are Cuisinarts to chop, grind, blend and knead. But do we really “need” them?
Since we no longer “work” we have to “work out.” We have to turn what used to be “play” into the science and serious business of the “work out.” You can no longer just run, ride a bicycle, play tennis or golf. You are applying for membership in the club of runners, cyclists, etc. In order to be accepted you have to present with the right gear: shoes, clubs, racquet, bike. There’s a new language to learn and lots of statistics, and always more gear to buy, to try, to critique or promote. It isn’t just “play” any longer; it’s a whole lot like “work.”
Here is the problem. We still eat as if we are doing physical labor and we still cook as if we had larger families. Obesity and diabetes are galloping across the country, trampling us like wild horses, and we don’t have the money or the leisure time to join the club of the “noveau fitte.” We aren’t fluent in the language, and we aren’t certain we really want to become citizens of this fanatical country.
Meanwhile, everywhere we look, there is real work begging for able arms and legs. But wait! We have a day for that. Keep El Paso Beautiful Day. Make a Difference Day. Arbor Day. Neighborhood Cleanup Day. That’s one way to “get ’er done.” Or maybe, that’s somebody else’s job.