Peninsula Views: Ride On

Side Effects


Given the opportunity, wouldn’t we all choose to be shiny, happy people? Advertisers know the vast majority do.

But when I watch sports on television with my young daughter, uncomfortable questions may arise after certain commercials having to do with, for example, enhancing male performance.

I am old enough to remember when pharmaceutical companies were prohibited from advertising on television, along with tobacco and liquor companies, and even doctors and lawyers. But with the promise of big profits and the reality of massive lobbying, that changed — most significantly in 1997 with the advent of cable TV, when new laws were adopted and others dropped.

Now every commercial break is filled with a promise of financial security and pharmaceutical ads, at least on what I watch. Every 12 minutes or so we’re told how one or another pill will solve problems we may not even have but that will guide us to a blissful life like those happy souls in the commercial.

Distracted by their playful interactions on the screen, we may not hear the narrator riff through the long list of possible side-effects, which may be catastrophic. I’m sure it’s a universal joke, but my dad took pride in improvising possible side effects: “Side effects may include your left ear falling off, or untreatable death,” or other outcomes worse than the affliction allegedly treated by the drug. We cracked ourselves up.

But what if many of those ailments could be addressed without the possibility of our left ear falling off? What if there were something we could do that didn’t have unintended complications, which would then need a different drug to treat?

In his great column, “Kryptonite” (KP News, October 2022), Joseph Pentheroudakis identified what works for him. In it he described how going for a bike ride helps him focus his mind and quiet the voices of self-doubt. Exercise produces a similar effect for me. I have sometimes found myself nearly overwhelmed by different, miniature conflicts in my life. On a daily basis few things stay “on script.” All of the responsibilities we put on ourselves pile up in a cascade of things screaming for our attention with none being resolved smoothly.

It’s times like those I go for a ride, a jog, or a walk. It doesn’t matter what I do, I just have to move. For me, focusing on moving changes my mind’s landscape. I’m no doctor, but it feels like giving my conscious brain something to do keeps it from getting in the way of my subconscious, where all the heavy lifting to process and prioritize takes place. Without exception, I feel better and am more productive when I get back.

This should come as no surprise. Study after study cites the emotional, mental and physical benefits of exercise. Many of these studies also show it doesn’t require extreme or even aggressive exercise, just relatively consistent movement. I’m painfully aware of how hard it can be to get up and go out to exercise. But the rewards are massive and the consequences of failing can be catastrophic over time.

I sure wish some of the big bike and shoe manufacturers would get together and launch an aggressive ad campaign resembling the big pharma ads.

They’d start with someone looking sad or dejected, trying to hide their affliction. Then, with the help of this “wonder drug,” they would become happy people exercising. A similar narrator could then riff: “Side effects may include living a longer, more productive life,” or “Side effects may include a dramatically improved social life,” or “Side effects may include improved cognition and increased happiness.” According to numerous medical studies, it isn’t “may.” Increased activity is statistically likely to lead to all those beneficial side effects, but it takes effort.

While it may be easier to succumb to a regimen of pills or shots, I’ll take a longer, healthier, happier life any day. And I’d definitely rather talk to my young daughter about that than “enhancing male performance.”

Mark Michel is a recently retired commercial airline pilot and Key Pen Parks commissioner. He lives in Lakebay.