Tag Archives: sport

Exercise and the placebo feel-good factor

I had an epiphany about exercise this morning. About length 16 it was. I spent the remaining 14 lengths, (or maybe the remaining 12 lengths – I tend to lose count around length 23), thinking about it.

My rather damp epiphany is that half the vaunted benefits of exercise are in fact just placebos and I am immune to them. This is the reason why lycra-clad gym-bunnies assume that I am being stupid, mad, stroppy or all three when I tell them that, no, exercise does not make me feel good.

I can only manage swimming for half an hour if I approach it as a meditation practice and concentrate on doing the perfect stroke. And then the next one. And then the next one. The mindfulness of swimming. Feel the water around your nostrils and on your upper lip. Etc.

  • No. I don’t have more energy afterwards. Placebo.
  • No. I don’t need less sleep. Placebo.
  • No. It does not put me in a better mood. Placebo.
  • No. I don’t enjoy it at the time. Placebo.
  • No. I don’t enjoy it afterwards. Placebo.
  • No. I have never ever found myself getting addicted to it. Placebo.
  • Or even used to it, really.
  • No, no, NO it is NOT – heaven spare us all – fun. Place-ee-frotting-BO. OK?

I swim with gritted teeth and go to the gym in a state of desperation crossed with Calvinist bloody-mindedness because you don’t see fat people in their 50s, because my mother disabled herself through sustained inactivity, because (and only because) it is Good For Me.

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Football fever

It seems fairly clear that one of the underlying attractions of football is that it enables men to express emotions. But I also wonder if there’s a deeper purpose of enabling men to feel emotions in the first place. I remember a Geordie explaining to me once that choosing your team was more important than choosing your wife because, after all, you can divorce your wife. He meant it, too. In the Radio 4 Programme The Choice, Michael Buerk interviewed a man who had decided to give up his Manchester United Season Ticket. It was an odd and fascinating radio programme, because Buerk quite clearly did not understand the magnitude of the moral and ethical choice facing this man. (Interestingly, that is one of only two episodes of The Choice not described in detail on the BBC website.)

Then of course there’s Bill Shankly who once infamously said that football was not a matter of life and death, but that it was more important than that.

So – it doesn’t take great powers of observation to see that men get really worked up about football.

What I find myself wondering, now that the New Man of the 1990s is old hat, is whether or not the appeal of football is that men can feel emotions about it.