New Problem for Government to Save Us From: Fitness DVDs

As a person who lifts heavy and occasionally sprints, I despise the majority of exercise DVDs. But that doesn’t mean I think the government should save us from them. Yet that is what recent media stories have promoted. If only we had bureaucrats to tell us what the “settled science” is regarding how we should work out, and censoring anyone else, we would all be better off.

Thus, “Exercise DVDs May Actually Be Psychologically Harmful.”

Exercise DVDs are a mostly unregulated industry, and their safety and accuracy haven’t been scientifically proven—yet their promises of chiseled, bronzed bodies have us forking over $250 million for them every year. Not only do we not know whether they work, researchers at Oregon State University are going so far as to report that they could be both physically and psychologically unsafe. To arrive at that conclusion they reviewed 10 popular DVDs, and they write in the Sociology of Sport Journal that 26.9% of the words spoken during the fitness videos were motivational statements. Except one in seven of those so-called motivating statements were in fact “negative” in their view—i.e., “You should be dying right now” or “you better be sweating.”

As soon as the industry is more tightly regulated, all will be well. The government solves every problem.

Then there is this caption to the accompanying photo:

Many fitness DVDs feature slender white women in skimpy attire, sending “subtle” messages about what being fit should look like, the researchers say.

Right. As anyone who thinks about it will figure out, the message is market-driven. People don’t care about being healthy as much as they care about looking good. The fitness industry tells people that they can all be beautiful and then assures them that they are not shallow because this is really about health. I don’t like this but it is not as if exercise DVDs are introducing evil thought into an innocent population.

The same is true about the masochistic language. People want to believe that what they are doing is a heroic struggle so they want instructors to affirm that they are doing something really hard.

It may be true that many won’t stick with such a program but I doubt many would even try a program that didn’t make people think what they were doing takes a lot of effort.

The only way to fix the problem is to work hard at spreading better ideas and better methods. Getting the government involved is a kind of socialism of information. The government has already messed up our diet. We don’t need them messing up our exercise even more.

I recently had the pleasure of recovering from an ischemic stroke, and spent over two weeks in rehab. My trained physical therapists were helpful and I am thankful for them. But, being under their care, I got pressured with a bundle of superstitions, like “You mustn’t hold your breath while doing something hard” and “When squatting you should not bend your knees more than ninety degrees.”

I could see these superstitions easily becoming government-mandated standards that all fitness instructors must adhere to. That would be disastrous. (There’s a nice video lecture at the end of this post about why holding your breath is safe.)

Another superstition among them was that only aerobic exercise really counts. That kind of thinking promotes the fitness DVDs as the only route for improving one’s health. But strength training is typically much less frenetic, much more body-shape diverse, and improves health in a much more incremental fashion. For example see these two videos.

Whatever method you choose to use to pursue fitness, you are better off doing your own research and making up your own mind than expecting the government to lead you into all truth.