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ISSUE 120 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/4/2007

Tostrud stunts fitness goals

By Maren Gelle
Copy Editor

Friday, May 4, 2007

As an RPEA (Recreation, Physical Education, and Athletics) desk worker down in Tostrud, I frequently observe the exercise habits of our student body. The number of students who come to Tostrud to workout is incredible and, as a frequent user of the facilities myself, I'm very proud of our dedication to health and physical activity. However, the American concept of working out has some problems, in part because we're usually working in.

While the Minnesota climate limits the outdoor activities in which we can partake throughout the year, it seems to me that most people use the Tostrud facilities regardless of the outside conditions outside. Even when it is 70 degrees and sunny people are still found in Tostrud or other fitness clubs throughout the country. Americans suffer from what Richard Louv calls nature-deficit disorder. We're the great indoor people of history.

Another issue I have is this country's unbalanced calorie equation. Calorie consumption functions as fuel for the body's daily activity. Americans promote calorie burning through exercise machines or pre-planned workouts.

I wonder why we eat an excess of calories just to burn them in artificial ways, such as climbing stairs or running in place. Too many of us view food, especially manufactured food, as a reward for doing something good, like spending thirty minutes on a stationary bike. Our taste has been industrialized to enjoy deep-fried food and sugar-covered junk more than natural foods.

We have also allowed our bodies to become more about appearance than function. We hear on the radio that Fergie is working on her fitness in the gym, so we think we should be too. Our mindset in working out is to shape our bodies to fit a certain mold, predetermined by pop-culture and the media. We do crunches to have sleek abs or butt clenches to have buns of steel. Our bodies were designed to do work- to do good work- not to look good.

Instead of all this recreation, I'd suggest a re-creation. Americans would benefit from a reconnection with nature and the ultimate purpose of the body. As David Orr describes in Earth in Mind, "What has gone wrong with the world is the result of education that alienates us from life." In the same way, I think that indoor physical activity separates us from life's natural physicality.

To achieve this re-creation, we could stop lifting industrialized weight sets, and instead lift pieces of wood to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Instead of running indoors on a treadmill, we could take children from Northfield on a walk through our natural lands. We could get off the stair climber and run errands for local elderly who can't make it up and down their own stairs.

Many claim that they work out in order to stay healthy, viewing exercise as a way to clear their mind or reduce their stress. I myself fall into this category, addicted to the so-called runner's high, especially after being cooped up in the library or in class all day. Being healthy, however, is more than maintaining a certain level of fitness or making time for your self.

The word "health" and the word "whole" share the same root. By working in and working out, we wastefully expend energy that could be put to better use, thus limiting our contributions to society. Our bodies were not designed to serve only our individual needs, like breathing and digesting. They were designed also to serve others.

To truly be healthy, we must acknowledge that we are whole only when working for something larger than ourselves.

As Scott Russell Sanders observes in Faith and Work, "If we are to sweat, we prefer doing so in health spas or on jogging tracks or beaches, an expensive sort of sweat aimed at making us look good in swimsuits rather than heaven."

Our culture should value our bodies' potential to do good work rather than their potential to be sexually attractive. We are equipped with powerful machines within our bodies -- bright minds, strong muscles, and compassionate hearts. With these gifts, we should work towards a goal of perfecting their performance.

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