Patient, heal thyself: what to do after you leave the gym?

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English: Frank Sinatra at Girl's Town Ball in ...

English: Frank Sinatra at Girl’s Town Ball in Florida, March 12, 1960 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not that long ago I watched a DVD of The Detective, a 1968 police procedural.

The film is interesting for a number of reasons including:

  • Despite being very successful at the time and with a very strong cast (led by Frank Sinatra but including Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset, Jack Klugman and an up-and-coming Robert Duvall) it is pretty much forgotten today;
  • It is, in a sense, the very first “Die Hard” movie as the character played by Sinatra is the same man (in the books on which the films are based) later called “John McClane“;
  • It, for its time, took some quite radical stances on race, sex and sexual mores;
  • And it has a not entirely hostile portrayal of gay men.

It’s the last point I am interested in here because we are shown gay men in what must have, at the time (given the way it is introduced) – seemed the campest of camp environments – the gym.

So, not that much more than 40 years ago we can assume that the gym was the last place that any hot-blooded heterosexual male would want to be seen. Pumping iron was definitely not for the macho man.

An yet it is plain that where the gay men led, the rest – men and women alike – have come to follow.

The revolution in attitudes is fundamental and is surely one that has contributed positively to extended expectations of active life in developed countries (a point worth remembering when reading more doom-and-gloom-obseity-epidemic stories.)

It is also interesting how poor the state and socialised medicine has been at understanding the profundity of this change. Britain’s National Health Service is long on exhortation to take more exercise but practical help paid for out of its £100 billion plus budget to facilitate such behaviour seems thin on the ground. And before someone says moral hazard – surely the whole founding-principle of a free-at-use health system is that we accept this risk of personal corruption as the price to pay for pooled risk?

I do not know what the best way for the state to facilitate such self-care is, but I do think that the current approach: to tell us it is a great idea but do nothing much practical after we leave school at 16, 17 or 18 (and after PE lessons there that most children hate) probably is not the most efficient way of behaving.

And I also think that the self-medication of the treadmill is only the beginning. More, lots more, is likely to happen in the next 46 years.

I am saying this after I have been reading about “grinders” (people who medically modify their own bodies) and “DIYBio” (hobbyist and similar genetic engineering). Both were new terms to me, but they are surely going to be widely discussed and soon – not least because the regulatory regime is plainly a bit of a mess.

Today both these (related) areas have a feel of the wild west, and certainly the “DIYBio” community are infected by a strong streak of anti-regulation libertarian (dis/u)topianism that verges on “X Files” mad-scientist chilling.

But even if the regulatory environment is strengthened or at least regulated, there can be no doubt that such forms of self-medication will – like the gym – become increasingly mainstream in years to come. After all we can hardly suggest it is a good idea to start jailing people for taking medicines they have manufactured to match their own genome (though I dare say someone will try).

(To read more you can do what I did – download O’Reilly’s BioCoder magazine.)

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