Health and Fitness

Posted by edlmiddletown on 2016 in Insights

by Kathryn Mirabella

hfThe idea of fitness — entangled in social and personal expectations — can seem like an unreachable goal.  From articles such as the “63 Must-Read Food, Fitness, and Happiness Blogs for 2016” to the latest Twitter content under #healthyliving, modern adults and adolescents are bombarded with advice on how to live and thrive as a healthy human being.  In the recent study done as part of the Everyday Life in Middletown project, diarists express extensively their charged and conflicting feelings of health, fitness, and body image.

“I am a cancer survivor, and the medicine I take at 7am is a thyroid hormone replacement. My thyroid was removed in 2003 because of a malignancy. Most days I just take the medicine and go on, other days I have thoughts creep into my head about whether the cancer might ever return. Or, if there is some particularly bad natural disaster in the news, I sometimes think about what an interruption in the production of my medicine might bring…I am totally dependent on the medicine to live. Today, with NPR reporting on rising tensions in North and South Korea, I was reminded of the important dependency I have for this seemingly unimportant little pill.”

-Informant 2

Our informants often express their worry and precaution that comes from a previous ailment. Between cataracts disease, heart attacks, cancer, and vaccinations, everyday life is constantly being affected by these health issues.  

“Grabbed a Subway sandwich- club with no cheese on flatbread for lunch at 2pm. I try to keep a low fat low cholesterol diet. Subway gives me a good option for healthy eating on the run.”

-Informant 2

As a result of these concerns, some Muncie individuals adjust their eating habits, exercise habits, daily routines, and so on. Our informants often exhibit cause-and-effect tendencies.  Some people don’t worry about “being healthy” until they develop destructive health issues, while others have to avoid healthful practices after health issues occur, like Informant 11.

“I had four show up for class. I talked them through Surya namaskar (sun salutations) and a standing series. Since I had two cataract surgeries recently I am avoiding activity. So, I am not practicing yoga asana.”

-Informant 11

Some are not entirely concerned with their health and well-being until it may be too late.  On the other hand, there are those who are extremely proactive in avoiding health issues by pursuing healthful habits.

“It is now 8:29 and we are debating the issue of H.’s six month vaccinations. She didn’t react well to her first round and with the second it was worse. But then diseases are bad too. I imagine we’ll beat around the bush, research it some more and do it anyway. Being a parent sucks sometimes, mostly it’s wonderful though.”

-Informant 3

Psychology Professor Albert Bandura of Stanford University examined the health promotion and disease prevention from the perspective of social cognitive theory.  In his article, he discusses the social feelings towards health and wellness.  

“We have shifted from trying to scare people into health, to rewarding them into health, to equipping them with self-regulatory skills to manage their health habits, to shoring up their habit changes with dependable social supports. These transformations have evolved a multifaceted approach that addresses the reciprocal interplay between self-regulatory and environmental determinants of health behavior.”

hf1Many people struggle to keep up with what seems like an unreachable goal of healthy lifestyle.  “We should go to the gym,” “We should eat healthy,” and “We should look and feel this way.” Sometimes this pressure comes from doctors, urging you to help yourself.

“I didn’t get to work out today, so I made a mental note to add some time to my workout on Thursday.”

-Informant 2

Other times this pressure comes from the media encouraging one to be their healthiest self. At other times this pressure comes from the individual pushing themselves to fix the way their body feels or looks.  In any case, people feel this pressing obligation to take care of themselves with the impression that they haven’t been doing a good enough job all along.  

“I grabbed a shake for breakfast – I just started dieting recently. I find it difficult to stay in a good routine with my changing schedule. Hopefully I can great some better habits by scheduling options ahead of time. I do struggle without solid foods after a period of time. I’ve cheated a couple times this week but I haven’t had any pop and that’s a miracle in itself. Usually I start the day with a 44oz and I’ll have another later in the evening. I’ve realize I need to start taking better care of myself physically.”

-Informant 13

As hf2people begin to age, nothing ever seems to be good enough.

“I take vitamins to make up for my lack of dietary calcium. I snack on trail mix for the good stuff in the nuts, but as far as it goes. I have much longer list of what I do that is NOT good for my body. This would have been filled with lots of good things if I were filling it out 10 years ago.”

-Informant 9, Body Questionnaire

In addition, a daily slip into junk food or a missed workout often leaves us with feelings of guilt and discomfort toward ourselves. Body image plays a tremendous role in the everyday. Our self confidence and presence reflects the way we look at ourselves.

“I dislike my personal appearance in a great way b/c I have gained SO MUCH weight over the last 5 years. I was always underweight all of my life and could never gain… I weighed 97 lbs from high school on into my late 30’s. I always regretted being so thin, as ppl would make fun of me a lot, yet I FELT healthier and had more energy and felt good. Now days, I feel tired and lazy and guilty and uncomfortable and it sucks. But I lack the motivation to keep up with the regular exercise that I spent my entire life engaged in. I do know that no one cares what I look like. Everyone is too concerned with their own appearance to give a damn about anyone else’s appearance unless that person vastly differs from the norm such as has an obvious physical abnormality.”

-Informant 9, Body Questionnaire

Oftentimes, when we do not feel that we are meeting the expectations of our doctors, the media, or our own personal goals, we neglect to look at ourselves in a positive way.  On the other hand, there are some who recognize this expectation and look past it.

“Personal appearance is important.  If you look good, you feel better.  Appearance is generally what individuals look at as an initial impression.  I tell myself, people will respond to you based on your appearance.”

-Informant 1, Body Questionnaire

“I try not to get too caught up in the rat race of looking a specific way. I don’t think any of our personal value should come in how we look or how we dress. At the same time, I think people must understand that isn’t how most of the world works, and in some situations, personal appearance will be very important… like applying for a job.”

-Informant 5, Body Questionnaire

Overall, physical fitness, health, dieting, and body image are all an extension of expectations placed on our daily lives. We have no way of avoiding the inevitable: sickness, death, and old age. Yet, we still fight this inescapable end with the “correct” habits and practices that lead to a healthy lifestyle.  The question is, why do we feel the need to practice good health, and how much of our daily lives do those practices take up?

“I really want people to bathe and clean their teeth. If I am too tired to floss and clean my teeth something is probably wrong in my life. I don’t like to see butt cracks. I don’t understand it as a social statement. I am a massage therapist. We were taught to turn people away if they are unclean but, I don’t.  I have helped a lot of people with their pain even if they smelled bad and, that is the truth but, I did not like it. I always hope that my willingness to care for them unconditionally will inspire them to love themselves. My Mother had a saying that’ ‘anything could be improved upon with a little elbow grease.'”

-Informant 11, Body Questionnaire

“It’s a scam to rip off women and damage their psyche. Movies…magazines…TV shows tell you non stop how you don’t look as good as XXXX but if you spend $$$$ you can look better.  There is no competition in the market. Guys won’t turn gay if women stop using makeup.  I think a female should try to look presentable and nice but daily females are damaging their skin by using all the chemicals.”

-Informant 10, Body Questionnaire