Virtue Fuelled by Sin

According to my phone, it is 34 degrees celcius right now. Now that it’s summer, I’ve been wearing t-shirts a lot, and one of the benefits of wearing the t-shirt is that it accentuates your muscles. I can see it in the mirror when I look at myself, but I am much bigger than I used to be pre-gym. Many other people are also commenting on my better looks. Especially with the girls, if they are not directly verbalising it, I can tell by their behaviour around me that they definitely notice my skyrocketing attractiveness.

For the last few months I have been going to the gym religiously. Whenever I go to the gym, I spend about forty minutes there. I do about five minutes of cardio on the exercise bike, but the rest of the workout involves weight training. I now try to do a bit of stretching afterwards.

Of course, it feels good to be admired by girls, but all this makes me wonder about vanity, sin, and virtue. You see, one of my friends thinks that going to the gym is an act of vanity, and that the only purpose of going to the gym is to look good. According to him, rather than going to the gym, I should play competitive sports like tennis or soccer because it is more social and it is easier to motivate yourself to do something when other people are involved.

I told my friend that I respectfully disagreed. What may work for one person may not work for another. The benefit of the gym is that you have everything you need in one place. When you play tennis or soccer, you are really only getting a cardio workout, which is equivalent to riding on the exercise bike or running on the treadmill at the gym. Tennis might provide some resistance or strength training, but it is mild, probably equivalent to working out with light dumbbells. Sports normally only provide one specific type of workout and that is it. The gym provides everything. You can mix your workout with cardio and strength training, and then with strength training you can increase the intensity easily. You can start with light weights and then as you improve you move to heavier and heavier weights.

Another benefit of the gym is that it is indoors. This means you can go there when it is sunny and not get skin cancer from getting sunburnt. On cold days, you are warm. On wet days, you are dry. Going to the gym, in my opinion, is better than having a home gym, and the reason why is price and convenience. I pay $6 per week to go to the gym, but if I tried to buy all of the machines and weights available at my gym and put them in a room in my house, I’m sure I’d spend more than $1000 (or more), and although in the very long run it may be cheaper to buy your own stuff, do you have the motivation to maintain the machines and fix them when they don’t work? Where I live, it’s not easy to find a spare room, and some of these machines are massive, so how in the world would I move them in there? I’d rather just pay the $6 per week and be done with it.

Another big plus with the gym is that you get a personal trainer (at least mine comes with one). If you do it yourself, you’re on your own, and you don’t know if you are doing it right, which could result in injury. If you have a personal trainer, he or she will watch you and will correct you. The personal trainer will also prescribe for you an exercise program that matches your needs. You don’t have to think too hard. You just do what you’re told.

Now, let’s get back to the vanity argument. Yes, indeed many people go to the gym to look good, but is that really a bad thing? For many people, it seems, vanity is looked down upon but is practised obsessively. Who knows where the roots of vanity phobia come from. Perhaps it is religious. Regardless, society seems to look down upon vanity as sinful but everyone acknowledges good health as virtuous. While working out at the gym satiates the desires of the vain, it also makes you healthy in the long-term. If you burn fat and increase muscle mass, you are not just looking good but you are also improving your health. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that obesity causes heart disease and all sort of other problems.

Furthermore, having muscle increases your metabolism and allows you to burn more fat. Having muscle also slows down sarcopenia and keeps you functioning even when you get old. Old people whose muscles have totally deteriorated need to be kept in a nursing home where other people need to assist them with moving because they do not have the muscles necessary to move themselves. Muscle naturally increases up until the age of thirty after which muscle mass naturally declines, which results in lower metabolism, massive weight gain (especially around the waist), and decreasing strength.

Working out at the gym then is one of those activities that provide you with a virtuous outcome (good health) that is fuelled by sin (vanity). A defining feature of sinful behaviour is that it provides you with much pleasure. Like all animals, we tend to seek out those activities that provide us with pleasure, but many things in life have a tradeoff between reward and pleasure. The more pleasure something gives, the less rewarding it is. For example, eating junk food is gluttonous and pleasurable but bad for your health. However, this tradeoff does not apply to everything, and different people react to different things differently. Many people may hate going to the gym, and they skip it all the time. I know a colleague who has been a member of the same gym I go to for almost half a decade and he has only been there about three times. For me, going to the gym is something that I do because I love it. I know it provides long-term health benefits, and if it also makes me look better, then that is only going to motivate me to be healthier, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes virtue can be fuelled by sin, and this, I think is an ideal situation to be in because virtue fuelled by internal willpower and sacrifice is not as sustainable as virtue fuelled by sin.

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