03 November, 2006

Exercise: A Cost-Benefit Analysis

You hear a lot about how exercise can extend your life. I did a little looking into this the other day because, well, frankly, I don’t like exercise and it sometimes bothers me that I don’t do any. I suppose I would do it if I thought it would be worth it though. I like food but I’ve more-or-less given up everything nice in order to avoid being obese. Here the trade-off seems acceptable: eat less on the one hand and look better, feel better and live longer on the other. But exercise… It just doesn’t seem so obvious that the benefits are worth having.

The problem with exercise is that it’s boring. For long periods, you have to do pointless things – like cycling, walking, chasing a ball around a field, bending and stretching, chasing a ball around a small room, and so on – which preclude doing more interesting things, like reading, writing and making music. Why should I waste my life doing boring things? Well, there are two reasons. One is that someone is paying you to and you need the money (which is why I commute two hours every day, for example). The other is there is some other kind of reward – the chicks will flock around you, you can kick sand in other blokes' faces, your clothes will fit better – or you get to live longer.

In which case, I guess it comes down to living longer. So how much extra life would make it worth all that boredom? Let’s face it, we’re not just talking about spending a week at a fitness centre and being set up for life. This is something you have to do day in and day out for the rest of your life – at least half an hour every single day! And when it comes to counting the cost of such thigs, I'm with Oscar Wild (who said, 'To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.')

Well, it looks like, for all that effort, you get three extra years of life. Three. Instead of dying at 74.5, like your average Australian male, I’d die at 77.5. Let me be clear here. Australians who have exercised regularly all their lives might live an extra three years – if the global pandemics, global warming, or world war three don’t get them first. And, assuming that ‘regular exercise’ means half an hour a day, a quick calculation shows that they will have spent 81% of those extra three years doing the exercise necessary for them to live that long!

So, an extra three years, four fifths of it spent hitting balls with sticks, or spending my time with a good book and not fretting about the few extra months I could have had?

No contest!

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