"The real value of running is that it is not work but play," concludes Mark Rowlands in this essay
that attempts to answer the question of why people run. The author goes on to ask if you would still run if you could take a pill that would provide all the health, fitness, aesthetic, and feel-good benefits.
|...and you feel happier when you're awesome ; )|
But those are not the points of this writing. Running because you like it as play and not work - certainly no arguments there!
Would I still lift weights and do sprints/plyos and basketball and mountain biking if there were a pill that provided all of the same benefits? That idea seems delusional to me. It smells bad. Dysfunctional. Like sitting down hungry to a nice meal and spitting out every bite.
Pills cannot capture the process of challenging, pushing, building, and growing the entire system. It is literally the mechanical compression and tensile strain that stimulates the body to signal the brain to release an entire army of various hormones, endorphins being among them. The body and mind and spirit benefit most from squaring up to discomfort (in its many forms - definitely not just exercise or physical discomfort). The mental gymnastics, physiological toil, and some sort of objective outcome or aim are all irreducibly connected. Health and vitality and joy come by saying "not today" as you swallow the bitter pill of discomfort.
So yes, when it comes to exercising our bodies, what we call "work outs" can and probably should be considered play. But may we also consider this a process of applying structured, controlled dosages of discomfort that forms and reforms our mind and body and spirit into something it previously was not. This we call "exercise."
This is not true suffering (well, at least it shouldn't be). This is not to say that "zoning out" to the point of hardly noticing the discomfort isn't a valuable experience. But discomfort in this context may be the closest thing we have to a miracle pill.