In Physical Exercise biologist Midas Dekkers concentrates his fire on the contemporary cult of fitness. All those hours spent in gyms and sports clubs he sees as a complete waste of time; they will not make your life any better or longer. In fact, sport causes injuries and heart attacks and is therefore likely to shorten your life.
Sport and fitness are mainly about making money. Dekkers reproaches the government for conspiring with health insurers and sports commercialism in deceiving us by promoting fitness and sport. The government is in fact trying to distract attention from its own failed policies on public health, which would be better served by less sport and more culture.
People who read books and visit museums have a healthier lifestyle; brains contribute more to the quality of life than muscles, Dekkers says.
He explains the current fitness craze by looking back to the cultural and historical roots of the well-known saying ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. The dualism of mind and body, which regards the body as inhabited by the soul, defines our selfimage even today. Dekkers uses a contemporary metaphor: the body as the motor car, with ‘I’ as the driver.
In the nineteenth century people began to believe that the way to reach the soul was through the body. Out of a fear of moral decline, idealistic movements emerged which promoted the Körperkultur as a route to spiritual exaltation: nudism, gymnastics, rhythmical dancing and vegetarianism as forms of spiritual hygiene. But the cult of the body was also extremely popular among militarists, fascists and communists.
They took their inspiration from influential figures such as the founder of ‘German’ performance gymnastics Friedrich Jahn, or from Hans Surén, so greatly admired by Hitler. Films by Leni Riefenstahl forcefully present just what can be achieved through exercises in army training camps and a Spartan upbringing at school. In (more or less) the same spirit, the French baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games.
The idea that the mind can be moulded into shape through the body found renewed popularity in the 1960s. Sport would not only harden body and mind but promote peace and brotherly love by acting as a release valve for the instinctive aggression of the human species.
Midas Dekkers is a biologist and a writer. As a biologist he looks ‘with the sound turned off ’, in other words without paying attention to honeyed words and government propaganda. In a sober, playful and humorous manner he slaughters the sacred cows of sport and fitness gurus.