On the pleasures and perils of counting

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Today is Sunday, November 20. At the moment, I’m keeping track of numbers. For example:

  • how many workouts I need to finish up the 222 in 2022 challenge (46)
  • how many days until my sabbatical is over and I return to teaching (60)
  • how many minutes I have to finish this post before I have to get in the shower and go to church (30)

I’m also reading about numbers. A popular science news outlet reminded us this week of the results of a 2020 study showing that we need to do 30-40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity to offset the mortality risk conferred by sitting all day (at work, etc,) Here’s an excerpt:

The analysis found the risk of death among those with a more sedentary lifestyle went up as time spent engaging in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity went down.

“In active individuals doing about 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, the association between high sedentary time and risk of death is not significantly different from those with low amounts of sedentary time,” the researchers explained in their paper.

Okay, so now I guess I need to count the number of minutes I sit during the day and then count both a) the level of vigorousness of my physical activity; and b) how many minutes I do that activity in order to reduce my risk of early death.

Or not.

What? What about the whole “risk of early death” thing? Don’t we need to step up our game to avoid the grim reaper?

The big message in the article (both the science one and this post here) about counting, is that everything counts. Here’s an actual scientist saying so:

“As these guidelines emphasize, all physical activity counts and any amount of it is better than none,” said physical activity and population health researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney in Australia.

“People can still protect their health and offset the harmful effects of physical inactivity.”

I have to say, I’m not loving this idea of counting the minutes I’m sitting as edging closer to death, and the minutes I’m engaged in physical activity as dragging myself back from the brink of oblivion. That sort of motivation doesn’t work for me. But hey, YMMV.

I like the idea that I can consider a 30–40 minute break (or 2 15-minute ones, or 3-4 10 minute ones, however you count it is fine) as a pleasurable time for me to do something I like– yoga, walking, strength exercises, short bike ride, spinning on the bike trainer. It’s not offsetting risk so much as offsetting work with play, concentration with relaxation, obligation with liberation.

Maybe some of these contrasts will appeal to you. They make life seem more pleasurable and less perilous to me.

And now, I must go– my number is up, and it’s time to shower!

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