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Should exercise be compulsory?

Did you hear the latest about the benefits of exercise? Seems it reduces cancer tumors, in whole or in part (“A run a day keeps the tumor at bay”)? It was a study in mice but it looks like it will extend to us humans.

As well as this the study showed yet again that exercise has a major impact in boosting the immune system. So it just doesn’t impact cancer tumors, it also impacts other diseases. The study shows that it does that by increasing the levels of interleukin 6 and adrenaline which boost the immune system. Cheaper than buying it from the drug companies.

There’s already an extensive literature showing that vigorous exercise increases cognitive capacity, memory and even intelligence significantly. It helps ward off dementia. I’ve already posted on this since it’s such a significant issue too. (“Yo! - Is Exercise the Secret to Silicon Valley’s Success?”

It’s becoming so obvious that exercise has life-changing benefits that the time has come to ask, should exercise be made compulsory? After all if everyone exercised there would be far less diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and so on. That would significantly reduce societal health costs and huge and rapidly increasing costs like care for the elderly. On its own it would probably address health cost over-runs that have become endemic in all countries. It would save trillions of dollars and reduce yawning government deficits. What’s not to like?

There was a time when exercise and physical education was compulsory for all schoolchildren. Not now although there are calls to bring it back. But the majority of adults doesn’t exercise or don’t exercise enough to make any clinical difference.

If you made PE compulsory for school kids, not only would their health improve. So would their test scores because this would d affect their cognitive capacity. And you would instill in many of them a lifelong habit of exercising. So that’s a no-brainer.

But what about today’s generation of slothful adults? We can’t really force them all to exercise. But there are some other methods we could employ starting with the famous nudge techniques of behavioral lore. What exactly would that entail?

I’m sure you have heard of the Fitbit and exercise trackers? (Full disclosure: I am a Fitbit obsessive of several years vintage). It would be perfectly possible for companies and governments at all levels to issue these trackers to all their employees. Then you could tie employees’ exercise to their health care contributions. People who met minimum goals would get reductions in health care contributions; the holdouts wouldn’t. The program would be opt-in so there’s no compulsion.

I know of companies today that issue Fitbits to their employees. However it’s not widespread. And many are chary about tying it to health care contributions. But there’s no ethical, legal or practical reasons not to go ahead with programs like this. Ultimately it’s to all our benefit. It will reduce health care costs and taxes.

And of course, it would make us all healthier and happier – yes we know that exercise does that to us too.

One of the most intractable social problems we face today is that of mental health (see my post “The Invisible Pandemic”). We know that problems such as depression, drug addiction and psychosis are massive if partly hidden problems in our society not to mention those of most other countries in the world today.

There is abundant evidence to conclusively demonstrate that exercise also results in an increase in individual happiness and emotional well-being. So chalk that up to another good impact of spreading exercise to everyone.

Time to get out of your chair everyone!







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