Much of our learning about health and exercise has stemmed from large changes in lifestyle since the industrial revolution and especially in the last fifty years. Job opportunities in the first world have become increasingly sedentary. The human experiment of life with minimal movement and exercise has forced the medical world to explore the ways in which moving our bodies improves overall health and well being.
However, clinical understanding of the health benefits of exercise has lagged behind the powerful food, diet and exercise industries. Capitalizing on the lack of information, big business took advantage of an opening to create a new narrative, and that storyline is much more compelling and powerful.
Rather than explore how activity can enhance our daily routine in today's world, these for-profit businesses have used another convincing but ultimately cynical tack. The bottom line is a subtle attempt to place blame and responsibility for the lack of exercise on the individual.
Using guilt as the ultimate subtext for a business model has been very successful. Education about the type of useful exercise and the many ways to create opportunities to be active is much less profitable than convincing the public that exercise is essential and that the level of exercise can only be attained in classes or at a gym, in other words by spending money.
The effect of this misinformation is to create a cohort of young adults addicted to exercise and who feel they are not ok, and even cannot eat, without it.
Similarly for those at risk for an eating disorder, exercise has become a gateway to illness. The exercise industry encourages the urge to obsess about body and shape and as a means to justify the intake of any food. More and more, exercise is a cornerstone for young people to develop eating disorders. Instead of exploring the place for activity and movement in our lives, exercise is a personal responsibility and a source of self-assessment, almost always one that leads to negative thoughts about oneself.
Prior to the sedentary lifestyle of many career choices today, exercise was not an activity but part of daily life. Just the act of standing, walking and taking care of life events helped keep our bodies fit and capable. The goal today is to fit time into our day for that movement, not to create an opening for industry to exploit our own insecurities and fears.