CAPITALIST COMPETITION & PHYSICAL FITNESSNovember 25, 2021
The recent death of well-known Kannada actor Puneeth Rajkumar has again brought into focus the increasing incidence of heart attacks among the young people and its relationship with intense exercise. On October 29, Puneeth was taken to his family doctor following the complaining of chest pain in the morning after his routine workout. An ECG of the actor was done and found as no evidence of any cardiac activity.
This trend of increasing incidence of heart attacks among the younger people is on the rise in the last few years. Over 30% of such ‘unfortunate’ victims do not have any conventional risk factors or family history. These people collapse during a workout or shortly after returning from the gym. High-intensity exercise is the precipitating factor in such cases. It’s well known that exercise is good for human fitness. But extreme exercise can push beyond healthy limits. Chronic extreme exercise and competing in fitness events can lead to damaging cardiac walls and disorders to heart rhythm. Because, Extreme, long-term stamina exercises put an equally extreme load on the cardiovascular system.
A study done on marathon runners found that even after finishing extreme running events, athletes’ blood samples contain biomarkers associated with heart damage. The study of 2011 done on randomly selected volunteers – both male and female – concludes that approximately 40% of marathon runners experience a transient rise in serum creatinine that meets criteria of acute kidney injury with a parallel elevation of cystatin C, and supportive elevations of neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin and kidney injury molecule-1 in the urine. All biomarker elevations in the study were resolved by 24 hours. These data suggest that acute kidney injury with a transient and minor change in renal filtration function occurs with the stress of marathon running. These damage indicators usually go away by themselves, but when the heart undergoes extreme physical stress over and over, the temporary damage may lead to remodelling of the heart or physical changes such as thicker heart walls and scarring of the heart tissue. Further studies point out that there is primarily circumstantial evidence that supports the “Extreme Exercise Hypothesis.” The hypotheses conceptualise that increasing volumes of exercise lead to a curvilinear decrease in health risks, but these health benefits may be partially lost once an individual performs exercise training beyond the optimal exercise quantity. Subclinical and atherosclerotic coronary artery disease (CAD) as well as structural cardiovascular abnormalities and arrhythmias are present in some of the most active veteran stamina athletes and need appropriate clinical follow-up to reduce the risk for adverse cardiovascular outcomes. There is further evidence that high intensity exercises can acutely increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death in individuals with underlying cardiac disease. This can also increase the risk of heart rhythm disorders, especially for the minority who have already existing risk factors.
As the individual self-images that lead to higher intensity exercises are formed as a social construct, an examination of the same is necessary to understand why people are undertaking exercises in a disproportionate way endangering even their health.
Exercise and its Relationship to Industry
The system in which we are living, Capitalism, is based on competition. Firms compete for profits. As the quantity of profits depends on market share, there is always a throat cut competition for increasing the market share of a company. Like that individuals also compete under the system. Workers compete among themselves to get employment. Artists and sports persons also compete among themselves for survival. The idea that one should exercise the body along with the mind existed much before capitalism by at least a couple of millennia. But capitalism remoulded the idea according to its own necessity. Naturally the question of fitness itself has become a big tool in competition.
The institution which cares about physical fitness and sports looks for potential candidates from very childhood onwards. Often the children are motivated with stories of high future benefits. The children are encouraged to do extreme physical exercise in order to perfect their body and sports stamina. The individual competition has also developed to such a stage that often ill healthy practices are also followed. Many times artificial foods and other chemicals including hormones and dangerous substances like steroids are used to get immediate results. The children are put under extreme mental pressure to submit to these practices in the backdrop of intense competition.
Another aspect of the story is the depiction of masculinity in the present capitalist society. Fitness rhetoric is often tied strongly to sexist beauty standards imposed by corporations and institutions to make profit from men’s and women’s mental insecurities by marketing so-called products that can enhance fitness. The advertising agencies create role-models in order to establish the process of developing fitness. In the process, the fit and masculine body is shaped by capitalist institutions just as much as the dancing body in case of females. As here our issue is intense exercise which is mostly connected with masculinity and male sexuality, let us look into that.
The space of male fitness exercises, the gymnasiums are often constructed in a way to further nourish the idea of male masculinity. These are often windowless and sound proofed spaces existing outside of night and day. People visit them in their leisure time, to do things that seem like exhaustingly hard work. They exist outside any emotional relationships, and is where one’s sense of sexual attractiveness is fostered. They are mostly private, and often expensive to access. Even if people often go to the gym in pairs or groups, the steps they do there are essentially individual centric. Nobody can truly collaborate with another one in lifting the weight.
There is a widespread feeling among young men that it would be shameful to be seen in public if they didn’t have developed muscles and visible abs. Many understand the heavy rise of gym-going as a symptom of crisis, pathology or anxiety. A large body of research on men and masculinity has emerged in the past decade, paralleling the already vast writings on, and explorations of, women and feminism. Just as feminism has critiqued and examined the ways in which women and femininity are shaped and constructed by system, so too has recent research discussed social constructions of manhood.
Although women’s insecurities have always been used to sell products, men’s self-images have recently become vehicles through which products can be marketed for higher profits, given the combination of cultural and economic forces that have encouraged various changes in gender and identity. Further, because of the near-universal boyhood pressure to engage and excel in fitness and sports, this becomes a key area in which images of masculinity are created, defined, and established. Additionally, the raised status one achieves through such participation serves to socialize competition and dominance into the masculine gender role, signalling to boys in a very early stage that such behaviour is a necessary component of manhood.
The general trend on consumption of goods in capitalism has shifted from purchasing specific products with concrete uses, to a more abstract relationship of these goods to constructed identities in modern times (Jagger, 2000). To maintain this continual relationship of identity to products, consumers must remain in a similarly continual state of insecurity about some aspect of their lives. Therefore, the advertising industry itself has become a public relations arm of capitalism, whereby goods are no longer advertised to merely sell a product (Jagger, 2000; Jhally, 1990). Rather, goods and services are immediately associated with a much more nebulous social identity, and one that is steadily changing to perpetually fuel an endless crusade of consumption.
In this sense, the advertising industry drives the demand, as goods are manufactured and marketed along similarly manufactured needs and insecurities. In relation to gender, then, a host of products are advertised as necessary components of a particular gender identity. Much of this marketing has targeted the body as a primary source of such identity.
Similarly, the ways in which such products are advertised to men, whether implicitly or explicitly, often point to and describe hegemonic notions of masculinity. In this sense, masculinity is marketed and sold. Within a capitalist, patriarchal society, then, the form of masculinity that is likely to be most linked to profit is one that equates notions of manhood with dominance, control, violence, etc.
This particular masculine image that is created by the advertising industry is continuously being strengthened in the minds of the youth population. This is the condition in which people are drawn to intense over exercise in order to build up the particular type of masculine body as seen in advertisements.
Another aspect of the problem to be kept in mind is that capitalism gives opportunity to everybody; but according to their purchasing capacity. Even if a strong masculine image is created inside the mind through advertisements, the individual gets the scope of developing the body based on that depending on the purchasing power of the individual. Most of the time it is not financially possible in childhood. But with the increasing income one gets through middle class jobs, the possibility to develop the body as seen in the advertisement increases. As a result of that, people are drawn to exercises in their 30s and 40s. This creates a favourable condition for more damage to cardiac muscles as the work-load given to the heart is abruptly increasing. This adds to the problem.
In short, it is to be seen that there is a social component associated with the increase in cardiac arrest of the young people related with intense exercise side by side with the physiological component. The social component is created and established by capitalism, the system in which we are living. Without questioning the cultural characteristics of that system, it may not be possible for us to go forward in proper meaning.