No pain, no gain: The physical fitness game
CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress) - Gerardo P. Sicat (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2018 - 12:00am

One way to characterize most economic decisions is to invoke the rule: “No pain, no gain.”

In making choices about national economic growth, we direct the use of our resources (effort, in short, “pain”) toward investment. Later benefits from investment involve a “gain” in our standard of living (that is, higher consumption).

The same principle applies to choices affecting personal life. Effort and expected gain can be literally imagined with greater precision. This can be seen more easily with decisions involving personal physical fitness.

When work was exercise. Exercise was once indistinguishable from work. In olden times, work involved a lot of physical activity so that the average person had a lot of activity without any need for additional exercise.

As modernization set in, some professions and activities became more specialized. Some work became less physical and involved more mental activity that was less physically demanding.

People became flabbier or fat and physically inactive and prone to diseases. In part, this was due to lack of exercise often aggravated by imbalanced or risky food choices.

No pain, no gain in personal living. Individual fitness cannot be delegated to others for us. We have to do it ourselves. We have to make the effort to achieve it.

In our modernizing world, technological change and specialization has caused a growing separation of physical work from work at the office. The invention of machines and the advance of technology, in general, has lightened the amount of direct human physical effort in the workplace.

The need for exercise as a distinct aspect of human activity became more evident as a channel for improving fitness.

My personal journey is useful to tell, especially as an octogenarian, I am still quite actively involved in exercise and continue to make the effort. Perhaps, that is the “gain”, that at an advanced age, I can still enjoy activity despite the fact that there are aspects of life that aging cannot overcome.

Running and fitness boom. During the late 1970s the running movement that began in the US reached the Philippines, like in the rest of the world.

Two books were very influential in this development. Kenneth Cooper’s book Aerobics extolled the benefits of aerobic exercise. To strengthen the cardiovascular system and prolong endurance are the twin big benefits of aerobic exercises.

James Fixx’s book, The Complete Book of Running, however, was most influential in enticing many individuals to go and join the running boom. Very well-written, this book was highly motivational in psychological impact.

On a personal level, I was swept into exercise early in the 1970s when I discovered how physically unfit I was as I was hitting early middle age. With the assistance of a UP swimmer who accompanied me and gave me confidence, my swimming improved. Then I also took up tennis.

When I tried jogging, I quickly got converted to long distance running. As an exercise, running had great economy of time use. Unlike other sports, runners required mainly a pair of shoes as equipment and one could run anywhere there was open space.

The body could also easily absorb the high training benefits relatively quickly from running. Other sports require long training effort for the acquisition of specific skills. The muscles need repetitive action to acquire memory. It took only endurance efforts to learn how to run the full marathon.

However, running suddenly suffered a big jolt: James Fixx, the guru and inspiration, died while running in 1984! The shock put fear and doubt on the future of running.

This was put to rest by knowledge, through autopsy and further analysis, that Fixx who died at 52 years was found to have had a congenital heart condition. His running probably helped to prolong his life. He could have over-trained his defective heart.

Running was my sport during my 13-year stay in Washington DC while I worked at the World Bank. My running enabled me to become aware of the beautiful surroundings of my neighborhood. I got to know America’s capital city that only other intense runners could discover. It is a beautiful city, full of parks, woods, and interesting monuments, buildings, and institutions.

I stopped running due to injury that eventually required surgery. But I switched to tennis during the latter part of my Washington years. Tennis has since become my main sport again, although it has never been in very good shape before.

Back to basics. But in the last 10 years, I decided to improve my tennis game by taking serious training instruction to steady my strokes and to improve my overall game and control.

I find today that my game has improved well enough to know that I can beat my younger self in singles, if only that were still possible. This I know from the way I play with trainers today. Yet I know that it is impossible to stop aging and will  likely decline in a few more years.

During this time of improving my game, however, I discovered a deterioration in other aspects. Aging cannot be avoided. But conditioning could have been sustained. Because I continue to love to eat, the balance of exercise with food led to gradual weight gain.

During the 50th anniversary of the UP School of Economics, I joined the faculty and student run around the academic oval. My speed was very slow, but I was disappointed to have to stop three times to walk to catch my breath. During my running days in the 1980s, I could run six rounds of the oval without stopping easily and much faster.

In the tennis court, it is possible to cover the short spurts of runs.

To remedy this, I have gone back to basics. I went out to join a neighborhood gym and put in the necessary work. In five months of workouts – in addition to my usual tennis games – I have improved my condition. I shed off 10 pounds and have added some muscle mass in the soft spots. The balance of food and calories burned have been restored.

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