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From "Obesity Undone" ©2010

Whatever Happened to the Strenuous Life?

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”– Theodore Roosevelt

In today’s society we seem to have slipped into a false truth — that if it is easier, it is better. We have remote controls for everything; the television, garage door, fans and even air conditioners. All have little devices so we no longer must heft ourselves out of our comfy seats and move. Hell, if you count devices that respond to hand clapping, we don’t even have to get off of our butts to operate a light switch.

Go out in public and you will find doors that open automatically, two-story shopping malls with escalators, you need but a wave of the hand to start water flowing from a sink or dispense a paper towel. We don’t even have to flush the toilet.

In society today it seems that we are always looking for the path of least resistance. The path that takes the least amount of work is the path most chosen. Even in the gym, where people are working out to get more fit, one can observe the same pattern. If say a person wants to use 50 pound dumbells for an exercise, but the weight is not there, many will go down to the 45′s instead of up to the 55′s.

Why not, while using proper form and safety precautions, test one’s self and go up in weight a bit? Why not make it harder?

We are bombarded by marketing ploys that are supposed to make being healthy easy. Products will help us lose weight without any effort. They even market exercise machines that will magically produce results with less effort. Isn’t the point of exercise to promote effort?


We have moved away from the “Strenuous Life” President Theodore Roosevelt so extolled. Our schools continue to cut out recess and have shortened gym classes, yet President Roosevelt used his belief in the strenuous life to overcome childhood ailments. He strongly believed in the adage that a fit mind requires a fit body to house it. He exercised, engaged in sport, he even skinny dipped in the Potomac River during the winter. While I would never consider swimming in the Susquehanna River as it runs along the Pittston to Wilkes-Barre corridor in anything less than a biohazard suit, I admire Teddy’s attitude and drive when it came to pursuing the strenuous life.

Our current President took more than a year into his term to appoint anyone to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. So while the First Lady was admirably campaigning to increase awareness of childhood obesity, the President of the United States took more than a year to take any action on the council that was founded to encourage American children to be healthy and active. Am I missing something?

In his 1899 address before the Hamilton Club, in of all places Chicago, Teddy Roosevelt asked the question, “Who among you would teach your boys that ease is to be the first consideration in their eyes—to be the ultimate goal after which they strive?”

It seems that by today’s standard, the answer would be yes. Thanks to the conveniences of modern society, life is easier. However, considering the soaring obesity rates, both adult and childhood, are the results of ease worth the price?

So I ask the question — Are we teaching our boys and girls to strive for ease? If we are — How much damage are we doing?




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