Healthy lifestyle does not depend on high-impact exercise

By Ellen Barczak, Columnist

People exercise not for the sake of exercise, but for the sake of health. When people justify their participation in damaging, high-impact exercise with the vague notion of “health,” I can’t help but wonder if they’re nuts.

In high school, I was a competitive Irish dancer. If you know one thing about Irish dance, know this: It is as true a sport as I’ve ever seen. Blood, sweat and tears are quite literally required for success in the discipline.

Irish dance was my first love. I ate, slept and breathed it, every minute of every day, training for three to four hours daily. Unsurprisingly, my reckless ambition resulted in me breaking my left foot twice in one year.

These days, I’m more into yoga. There are just too many miles on my body for a young woman of 20. At times, when I was recovering from the myriad of injuries I gathered over the years, the chronic pain I experienced made me feel like an old woman.

As a 20-year-old who has felt 70, speaking to 20-somethings, I’m telling you right now: Stop running. Stop doing box jumps. Stop punishing your body in the pursuit of health.

The National Center for Biotechnology Innovation claims as much as 56 percent of runners experience injuries every year. That’s well over half. I’m pretty sure none of you guys is being chased by a maniac with a knife. In other words, you don’t have to run.

Health is not having a six pack for a summer. It’s not running a marathon. It’s not benching 200 pounds. Health, rather, is the establishment of habits that will lead to holistic well-being long-term, not short-term. It’s learning moderation in all things, enjoying being active and caring for your body.

What are your workout habits like? Do they involve pain or agony? Do they make you feel like you’re going to die? Are you ignoring an injury for whatever you’re training for?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, seriously, please stop. Be kind to your body. Don’t punish it. Don’t push it to extreme limits when you don’t have to.

According to research published in the BMJ, one-third of knee replacements result in pain and regret. I’m afraid not many college students think much about possible knee replacements 50 years from now, though.

One thing’s for sure: You’ll miss your knees when they’re gone. You’re ultimately going to do what you want, and that’s cool. However, whatever you choose to do, I want you to try to put yourself in your elderly self’s shoes and ask, “Was it worth it?”

Maybe you’re training for the Olympics; I don’t know. But I sure hope it will all be worth it, even during the pain down the road. If you don’t think it will be, take a chill pill and go for a brisk walk with your friends. Make sure to put on your sunscreen if you do that.

Be careful with yourself. Be kind to your body. Be conscious of your perspective on life. You’ll want those knees, hips, ankles and feet for a little while yet.

Ellen is a sophomore in LAS.

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