High-speed travel and electronic media dominate our lives and continue to proliferate into the 21st century. They have led to a huge increase in sedentary occupations and have diminished active physical involvement with our environment. Nowadays we no longer need to use our bodies in the way our ancestors did. Alongside technology’s undoubted potential for liberation, the achievements of the hi-tech age offer constant inducements to physical and mental laziness. In the wake of explosive technological growth, the lives of individuals are progressively alienated from activities which require a balanced use of the whole self. Our way of living and working encourages physical inactivity. As a result, the lack of adequate, regular exercise has become a major cause of disease and ill-health in the modern world.
Even when we exercise we want machines to work for us. Technology so permeates our lives that we have come to associate fitness with the latest electronic exercise equipment. Fitness has become a fashionable commodity. Commercial organizations and the media continually reinforce the imperative: thou shalt be fit. We are made to feel ashamed for not being fit or not taking enough exercise. As a result, more people than ever work out, jog, cycle, swim, and indulge in other forms of exercise with fitness as their stated goal. The craze to become – or at least to appear – fit has led to a growing incidence of anorexic emaciation, spinal injuries, steroid abuse, and strained muscles.
On the other hand, many people still resist the pressure to get fit. They actively avoid exercise because it feels like a strenuous, uncomfortable, and tedious way of spending time, despite the insistent reminders that it can make a vital contribution to their health and quality of life. After all, there is clear evidence that regular aerobic exercise reduces the risks of coronaries, strokes and heart disease. It enhances cardiovascular efficiency and encourages fuller breathing, helping to regulate blood pressure and reduce stress. Better breathing and circulation boost mental functioning and hormones such as the endorphins which are stimulated by vigorous activity, have a revitalizing effect on the whole system. For most people, regular exercise brings about a significant increase in energy and vitality. As long as it is performed in an intelligent manner, exercise undoubtedly has the potential to promote health, longevity, and a sense of well-being.
But how intelligent are we about exercising? Surrounded by noise and haste, we tend to match extreme situations with extreme responses. When we feel we have gone wrong, we seek to redress the balance with something equally wrong. In the face of ill-health caused by inactive life-styles, our characteristically unbalanced response is to pursue a dubious ideal of fitness. So on the one hand there is unhealthy inactivity, on the other all the absurdities of the latest fitness craze. When we launch into activity, we too often adopt a second-hand, thinly considered approach which denies a whole spectrum of possibilities for balanced change. This pattern of response is what Alexander was thinking of when he made his paradoxical-sounding remark that ‘the opposite of wrong is wrong.’