by John Baden

Economics is not simply about money. Rather, economics helps explain personal decisions and social coordination.  It focuses on two things, information and incentives. Here is an economic perspective on the most common New Year's resolution, to become fit and lose weight.

There is overwhelming and ever increasing information that regular and moderately serious physical exercise, 60 to 80 percent of one’s maximum heart rate for 30 or more minutes, five times a week, is a near magic elixir for mental and physical health. This is especially important for middle age and older people.

Rubin-2The evidence is overwhelming. (Please see footnotes below.) Yet the half-life of the "I'll become fit and healthy in the new year" resolution is woefully short. Research shows that less than 10 percent of people who resolve to change with the start of a new year actually do. How can one improve the odds and extend this resolution to last through the year and beyond?

It helps to understand that weight loss and exercise are strong complements; they reinforce one another. Well-toned and fit people feel better about themselves, especially when exercising. Rubenesque standards of beauty may indeed return from the 17th century--but they haven't yet.

However attractive these people may have seemed a few centuries ago, among successful and knowledgeable individuals, standards evolve toward fitness, health and a leaner body.

Last summer Ramona and I took a visitor to the Museum of the Rockies. It's just south of the MSU campus. A group of athletic young females were running east on Kagy, the street separating MSU from the Museum. Our guest asked who they were, expecting I suppose, to hear they were members of the MSU tennis, basketball, volleyball, or ski teams. (How would we know? We no longer teach at MSU and ours is a big town.)

I responded that most likely they were MSU women training in hopes of becoming "Bozeman Girls." These are the ones with bumper stickers on their vehicles saying "Ski Like a Girl." Here it's a boast. When they marry and have children, I see them bringing young ones to The Ridge.

Many people in Bozeman exemplify this trend toward healthful living. The town has one health club for every thousand residents. Those I've visited are pleasant places indeed.

Let's take an economic perspective on the New Year's resolutions to get in shape. It doesn't take a great deal of time or effort to do this. Vigorous walking, cycling, cross country skiing, swimming for an average of 45 minutes a day plus 15 minutes of resistance training is sufficient. Many people here get into a seasonal grove.

(see for example Bozeman Womens Activity Groups BWAGS)

People who make this resolution usually do one of two things; they join a health club or buy home exercise equipment. Some do both. Here is my cautionary note: Unless you have a very attractive place to locate home equipment, by all means join a health club. Even if you have such a place and money is not a constraint, you will miss the comradeship of exercising with friends if you elect to exercise at home.  

There are many dozens of articles directed to health club managers on retaining members. Essentially, they say: "Make it valuable to belong."

Nice health clubs are far more attractive than the average basement with exposed pipes, wiring, and floor joist. (There are 5,000 CrossFit franchises in the United States. Their marketing niche features an ambience of Spartan, warehouse like facilities.)

If exercise is a goal you want to sustain, invest to make your work out activities a magnet for your time. Regularly scheduled walking or jogging with a friend works well. If you elect to join a health club, appearances and conviviality matter a great deal. People are drawn to some places, repelled by others. In addition to finding companionship and reinforcing goals, successful health clubs are attractive. To increase the odds of keeping your New Year's resolution of increased fitness, I suggest joining a club and meeting friends there. You are likely to find it addictive and highly productive of healthful living.



Mayo Clinic

The bottom line on exercise

Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, gain health benefits and have fun. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

The bottom line is - the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of getting hurt.

Physical Activity is Essential to Healthy Aging

As an older adult, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can prevent many of the health problems that seem to come with age. It also helps your muscles grow stronger so you can keep doing your day-to-day activities without becoming dependent on others.

Not doing any physical activity can be bad for you, no matter your age or health condition.... Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do.

Scientific American

The longer, harder and more often you exercise, the greater the health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, ...recommendations based on a decade of scientific research.

Studies have shown that people who engage in the amount of exercise recommended by the feds live an average of three to seven years longer than couch potatoes, according to William Haskell, a medical professor at Stanford University

U.S. National Institute of Health

Scientific studies show that staying physically active and exercising regularly can help prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities. Scientists find that even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of people who are frail, or who have diseases that accompany aging.

Yet, studies show that exercise is safe for people of all age groups and that older adults hurt their health far more by not exercising than by exercising.

An inactive lifestyle can cause older people to lose ground in four areas that are important for staying healthy and independent: STRENGTH, BALANCE, FLEXIBILITY and ENDURANCE. But research suggests that exercise and physical activity can help older people maintain or partly restore these four areas.


Editor's Note: John Baden found Bozeman in the late 1960s when looking for the best place to build his life.   He explored and ranked every town in the Northwest having a four year college or university.  Bozeman ranked first and he left Bloomington, Indiana in 1970 to accept an offer from MSU. He earned a Ph. D. in economic anthropology from Indiana University and was a NSF post doc in environmental policy.   He founded the Foundation for Research in Economics and the Environment (FREE) in 1985 which he and his wife Dr. Ramona Marotz-Baden lead.  FREE's mission is to harmonize three oft conflicting values; environmental quality, responsible liberty, and modest prosperity.  John and Ramona live on an irrigated Gallatin Gateway ranch, all but thirty acres of which they placed in a conservation easement.