Who exercises in the United States? Richard Florida of The Atlantic summarizes some recent research:
[E]xercise may treat diseases as effectively as drugs, as one BMJ study recently showed.
Everyone knows it, but not everybody does it. Just a month after making those New Year’s resolutions, 36 percent will already have given up, according to University of Scranton psychologist John Norcross. […]
You might think people would exercise more in warmer, sunnier states. But that’s not the case. [Martin Prosperity Institute analyst Charlotta Mellander] found a negative correlation (-.38) between yearly average temperature and exercise across the 50 states. Exercise levels also correspond to wealth and affluence, with substantial positive correlations to both income (.65) and wages (.64). States where people exercise more are also more highly educated, with a significant correlation (.68) to the share of adults who are college graduates. And exercise levels are higher in states with more post-industrial economies, as participation was highly positively correlated with the share of knowledge, professional and creative workers (.51) and negatively correlated with the share of blue-collar workers (-.65).
Fitness participation also tracks the nation’s red/blue divide, being positively associated with the share of Obama voters (.51) and negatively associated with Romney voters (-.53). Exercise also hews closely to America’s religious divide. People in more religious states exercise less (the correlation between religiosity and exercise is -.69).
In other words, whether you live in a cold or temperate region of the United States, if you’re an atheist, a college graduate with a high paying white collar job, and voted for Obama, there’s a good chance you’ll be seen at the neighborhood yoga studio in downward dog; if you’re a fundamentalist, a high school graduate with a low-paying blue collar job, and voted for Mitt Romney, there’s a good chance you’ll be seen at In-and-Out Burger.
Quiet desperation. If all this comfort eating of fast food and exercising for longevity seems a bit desperate, it’s because it is desperate. Thoreau writes (in the first chapter of Walden) the following:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city [yoga studio] you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats [and In-and-Out Burger]. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
Okay, I updated Thoreau a bit, but you get the idea.
And Thoreau is mostly right, of course, except for that part about “the mass of men.” What he ought to have written is all men–all human beings–lead lives of quiet desperation. (That would include the saintly Thoreau.) To be born into this world is to be a chicken with your head cut off, running this way and that, seeking wholeness, grace, fitness, … something. And unless you’re quite deluded, you’re never wholly sure you’ve got it right; the problem of life (and one’s inevitable death) solved.
In this, the “Romney-voting, burger eating fundamentalist” and the “Obama-voting, exercising atheist” are in the same sinking existential boat, united, red state and blue, with delusion and vanity for all.
Oh, and the universe is expanding.