For years, my favorite weekly workout has been our old-guy pickup basketball game. Though I can get hotter than a habanero every once in a while, I am not very good (I have the vertical leap of a street curb, and I scored two points during my eighth-grade basketball season). But that is not the point. It is that we sweat a lot, yap even more, joke a little and compete hard, which is just a long way of saying that it is a fun way to try to stay in shape.
But running, jumping and banging bodies comes with a catch. Over the last year or so, our group has tallied two broken fingers, two split chins and countless other sprained this-and-thats. Some members have hung up their high-tops for good, saying it is just not worth the risk. Others — ranging from our 30s to 50s — keep going. I still play, even though I have severely pulled my back three times over the last five years and my knees and ankles ache for a day or two after I play. Every week, I give an almost subconscious thought to the question, “Is the risk worth the reward?” Which is actually the same question I have when I drive by Dairy Queen.
Whether we are talking about basketball or Blizzards, it is the question at the heart of every tough health-related choice we make. How satisfying are the rewards and how dangerous are the risks?
Answering that question is not always easy, particularly when you have a three-story burger staring you down and you are lion-roaring hungry. Sometimes those decisions are driven by impulse, sometimes by critical thinking, and sometimes because our peers needle us one way or another. Other times we keep the big picture in mind, and that is what I have always admired about people who do just about everything right when it comes to their health. They do not succumb to temptation, and because of that, they are rewarded with healthier, stronger bodies.
But what if the question is not between right and wrong, but between OK and OK? There is nothing inherently wrong with playing basketball unless you get hurt doing it, but you could say that about any form of activity or exercise.
So, what is the best way to make good health choices, whether they revolve around eating decisions or some kind of other vices? Should you go with your heart or your brain?
One camp might say that you have to go with your brain. It is the best way to live longer and stronger. Another camp might say that you should go, at least time to time, with your heart — seize the day! Maybe, as we all make decisions that affect our health every day, the answer is somewhere in between: in our guts.
What feels like the right thing to do, what are our priorities right now, and what are our goals for the future?
Right now, my gut tells me to keep on playing ball. But when it tells me it reallyreallyreallyreally wants a large chocolate-dipped cone, I’ll do everything I can to tell it to shut the hell up.
Ted Spiker (@ProfSpiker) is the chair of the University of Florida department of journalism, as well as a health and fitness writer. He is the author of DOWN SIZE, a book about the science and soul of weight loss and dieting.