April 21, 2021

CHANG | Burn It, Baby

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Last week, I took a look at my step counter for the first time in a while. It was a tragedy. Every year of college has significantly decreased the number of steps I take in a day, on average. Although I’m a statistics major and I know correlation isn’t causation, I’m pretty sure I can tell you that I’m less healthy. This is my (and your) annual reminder to get some exercise and take care of our physical health.

Freshman and sophomore year, I always went to class. I would walk down from CKB on Thurston Ave. toward central campus. As a sophomore, I even went to my 8:40 a.m. economic history class to listen to a now retired professor discuss the size of ships in the colonial period. Good stuff.

In the age of Zoom class, I pull up to class, sometimes from my bed. When I actually get up to go to class, it’s possible I haven’t showered and it’s even less likely I’ve eaten breakfast. Who cares, after all? I don’t have to turn my camera on and it’s not like I have a reputation to uphold anymore, anyway. 

Total daily steps? 40. Maybe less. I rarely hit 2000 steps in a day. There are days when I don’t even leave my apartment. Never did I think I could live in such an enclosed space for such long periods of time; yet, here we are.

I can’t remember the last time I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I looked well-rested. The bags under my eyes are prevalent. Step one for better physical health: rest. Get eight hours of rest (or at least however much you know you need to feel well).

Step two: eat well. Actually find fresh fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet. After I was weaned off of my unlimited dining hall meal plan, I felt I ate better and more healthily… until I was tempted to order late night delivery from a downtown fast food restaurant every night. Before the pandemic, I might have resisted such a temptation. But now, I often just give up. 

Step three: do something physical — anything. COVID has provided me with a litany of reasons to be immobile. There’s never a reason to go outside and take a walk; in fact, we are actively encouraged not to. Many gyms are still closed and for the ones that are open, we worry that they are vectors for COVID-19, so we aren’t able to enjoy the benefits of machines or have a specific place for exercising. In short, we have to actively try so much harder to burn the calories we ingest.

I coach and judge high school debate tournaments on the weekends. Before the pandemic, this meant traveling every weekend across the country. Even the process of a tournament passively caused me to move: I’d have to walk across airports and various high school and college campuses in order to work my job of helping students find their voice. Now, I sit in front of my laptop for what is sometimes sixteen hours a day on the weekend. The job is a slog, and an extremely unhealthy one at that. I rarely leave my desk except for caffeine and infrequent food or stretch breaks.

So many jobs and activities have similarly shifted towards online modes that promote sedentary lifestyles. Combined with self-isolation, increased socio-economic hardship, chronic stress and deteriorating psychosocial health, these societal interventions designed to combat the pandemic end up creating the conditions for increasing obesity as well as other disorders and chronic diseases. Even without contracting the virus, the pandemic has had even wider public health impacts.

This is my attempt to actively commit (or recommit) to a more active lifestyle. We might not have needed to make these commitments before because we were able to be active enough passively by just walking everywhere. No longer do we have the incentive or ability to do so.

Everyone’s relationship to exercising might be different. We may have played team sports to burn calories and steam before, which we cannot do these days for the most part. We might have been gym rats. Personally, I picked up distance running during pockets of motivation over the past year. Yet, consistency has been the missing key to leading a more active lifestyle. Combatting that passivity is paramount: We have to overtly find the time in our schedules to set aside for the gym or for the trail. 

Darren Chang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dchang@cornellsun.com. Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Thursday this semester.