The Line Between Fitness and Obsession

5 mins read

If it wasn’t for football, a lot of people would know nothing about concussions. Thanks to the latest Will Smith movie, it’s all the commentators can talk about. The concussion protocol is so stringent now, that one might get the impression that the NFL is going overboard with caution. But it is tough to give the NFL any credit for what they are doing these days with their concussion protocol. That is because for far too many years, they didn’t seem to care one bit about the long term effect of the game on the players that were making them rich.

But concussions are just the most top-of-mind consequence of taking physical activity to the point of obsession and excess. If you go see a doctor for anything at all, getting some exercise will always be a part of the advice. Yet those who obsess over physical fitness usually end up seeing a doctor as a result of too much exercise. There is a fine line to walk, or run, or bicycle. Here are a few ways to know when you have crossed that line:

When the Risk Is Greater than the Reward

I love football. And I would hate to be the one to discourage the next Tom Brady from trying out for the football team. But we need to be brutally honest about a brutally destructive activity. Football is better for the fans than the players. The players spend the best years of their life in pursuit of no higher goal than chasing a ball. The number of times you helped deliver it to the end zone, or kept someone else from doing the same is all you will have to remind you of why your are in constant pain, on medication and in physical therapy for the rest of your life.

Players are subject to all manner of injuries like concussions that will adversely effect them well past their playing years. The NFL concussion lawsuit settlement is a recognition that many of the symptoms from concussion come later in life. The amount of the settlement payment is based on a number of factors including playing time. As with all such lawsuits, it is not just about the injuries. It is about what the NFL knew, and when they knew it.

Athletes were being allowed to play in situations where it was known, or should have been known that they were already concussed. It’s not just game time. One day of football practice is probably more physical activity than a person needs in a month. Everything about it is excessive, dangerous, and not worth the risk. At that level, the exercise is no longer about health. It is antithetical to health.

When Good Health Is No Longer the Goal

Organized athletics is generally a good thing. At the elementary level, it promotes playtime and good health to kids who might not get it at home. But as kids get older, and sports get more competitive, good health ceases to be the goal. Shaping bodies that perform specialized tasks that produce wins become the goal. The moment that happens, the result is usually increased risk to good health.

When Body Image Gets Confused with Health

There is a huge difference between looking good and being healthy, despite what beauty product makers tell you in their billion dollar ad campaigns. Body image is based on emotion. Health is based on specific metrics that have a scientific basis. The anorexic does what she does due to a distorted sense of body image. Certain kinds of athletes bulk up, while others slim down. Efforts to establish a certain body image should always be considered only if good health will be maintained.

We have a pretty good idea of how much exercise we need, if not, there are charts and infographics that can clarify the matter. The same is true for what constitutes a healthy diet. It is not that we don’t know these things. It is just easy to turn health into an unhealthy obsession by engaging in risky behavior with few rewards, engaging in physical activities where health is no longer the goal, and conflating health with body image.

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