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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Fitness, fatness and hysteria

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An epidemic of physical fitness is breaking out among the 50-plus generation that should not go unnoticed in this time of near-hysteria about that other alleged epidemic, obesity.

Suddenly there are Canadians who at 50 are fitter than they have been in their adult lives. They are running marathons even after having heart attacks. They are competing in world bikini contests 10 years after being confessed “blobs.” They are training five days a week. Pilates classes are thick with them. Canada has 2,000 athletes in the World Masters Games in Australia this week, the most of any of the 95 visiting countries. The mythical 60-year-old Swede wouldn’t stand a chance next to a 50-year-old Canadian.

This surge of exercise is not something created by government policy. It is in the air, and no white paper or board of health put it there. It is a phenomenon of baby boomers who wish to live forever, or at least to live as if they were young, at any age.

It only seems as if they are deluding themselves. Scientists say they may be right. Exercise slows the rate of muscle loss, joint stiffening and artery hardening. It reduces the risk of glaucoma. Even elderly couch potatoes who take up exercise in their 80s can live healthier and longer lives.

The active 50-plus generation may hold the key to solving the putative obesity epidemic among the young. They are doing what everyone else is only talking about. And they seem to be having fun at it. They seem committed to it. If they can do it (while also lowering the health costs of aging), maybe others will follow.

Smoking rates among young people did not drop during decades of lectures intended to frighten classrooms of impressionable students. Why? Because adults kept smoking. When adults gave up the noxious habit, youths followed.

The decline in smoking was a victory of public policy: No-smoking regulations made smokers accept that their habit was anti-social. But it convinced health advocates that the same could be done on obesity. It can’t. Shunning smokers, or at least, smoking, was the right thing to do. Shunning the overweight and obese would be wrong, and harmful.

But fat is the new smoking, and the anti-obesity crusaders have increasingly raised the pitch of their alarm. The obesity madness that grips North America and beyond has been manifest in accusations from the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that heavy people’s overeating causes the world’s poor to go hungry; in calls in this country to prohibit advertising for junk food, and even ban mascots such as Tony the Tiger; and in unsubstantiated claims that the next generation may have a shorter life span than their parents.

The implied goal is that society should dedicate itself to wiping out all traces of fat. All that abhorrence of obesity has had little or no impact on the supposed epidemic, except to make obese children and teenagers feel worse than they may already feel. Thus do the health advocates bring on the very psycho-social consequences they claim to wish to avoid.

There is no utopia of the sleek and beautiful awaiting the world (what a boring utopia, anyway); urbanites will continue to rush from their desk jobs to McDonald’s to children’s soccer practice. The answer, as suggested by the outbreak of athleticism among those 50 and over, is a rebellion against sedentary days and couch-potatoism, which will sooner or later be taken up by the young as if they thought of it first.

CTVglobemedia Publishing, Inc

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