The economics of fitness: Sumo takes a gander at a workout cost-benefit analysis


I am a student of economics, and therefore need to look at everything through the lens of a simple cost-benefit analysis. You can make a good CBA model for almost anything – finding a formal date, how much time you should spend on Facebook or maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Analyzing people's internal motivations is tough, but I thought I would give it a try anyway. 

This isn't the ideal CBA model for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but I tried to incorporate as many things as I could, focusing attention on what my friends talked about. The costs are usually simple and easy to overcome. They include the direct monetary costs (gym membership, supplements etc.), time-opportunity costs (missing an afternoon nap or an episode of Glee), social-image costs (looking silly on the elliptical, not knowing what to do with the lateral pull-down machine) and finally, as my roommate puts it, "it requires effort."

The reason so many people choose to work out obviously, as economics would explain it, is that the benefits outweigh the costs. Here is a rundown of what motivates people to hit Lilly as soon as their 2:20 p.m. classes get out: 

Looking Good: Probably the primary reason for people to turn off the TV and turn on the treadmill is simply to look better. According to my Honor Scholar professor it's all evolutionary biology. Humans subconsciously use body (and face) shape and proportions as indicators of gene quality, health, and fertility. The genetic-propagation robot inside our heads is constantly telling us that better shape equals better mate. I've read plenty of literature that supports this argument in some way, and I personally believe it. However, there has also been a lot of recent criticism about the exaggerated importance media and pop culture puts on looking good and being thin. The image of the "ideal body" that is portrayed often is unhealthy and unsustainable.

Maintaining Health: People understand that physical activity is an essential part of being healthy in the long run. No one wants to develop cardiovascular disease later in life, and maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy diet is about the best thing we can do to avoid this and many other health maladies. "I just want to be healthy, it's obviously the smart thing to do" said sophomore Chris Peden, who enjoys lifting weights and playing racquetball. People are also learning and reading more about nutrition and fitness. The younger generation is more aware of the benefits of exercise and is making more intelligent long-term decisions.


Endorphins: Junior Matt Maloof said, "After I work out, I simply feel better about myself – more energized and invigorated." Studies indicate that physical activity releases endorphins in the body, which are associated with analgesia and a feeling of well-being. Nicknamed the "happy hormone," endorphins are also released when people eat spicy foods or chocolate, get excited, or have sex. This general sense of feeling good about oneself is another common motivating factor for people to stick to their work out routines.

It's Fun: A lot of people work out simply because they thinks it's a lot of fun. Junior Hannah Clingan teaches the Zumba and Turbo Kick fitness classes on campus and thinks they're a blast. "I'm always meeting new people and I have so much fun with the choreography I'm constantly learning and teaching," she said. Many students on DePauw's campus are regularly involved with recreational and intramural sports, enjoy the varied fitness classes that include water aerobics and spinning. Others find their own way of making working out fun. Experts say that switching up your workouts make them more enjoyable and therefore easier to stick with.

Eat Guilt-Free: Another common reason for getting a daily fix of physical activity seems to be the associated guilt reduction that comes with it. Burning off calories is just one more reason many individuals decide to hit the gym. Junior Lizzy Dewart, whose go-to exercise is simply running on the treadmill, jokingly said, "I hit the gym to work off my weekend Marvin's."

While different people find different motivations to help them stay fit, it's a simple equation where the reward far outweighs the cost.

— Chatterjee is a sophomore from Kolkata, India, majoring in economics.