During a recent run, I was told that a number of world-class athletes had once been asked the following: Suppose there was a drug that would guarantee victories in whatever events you chose, but would also cause you to die in five years. Would you take that drug?
The surprising result became known as Goldman’s dilemma, after the physician who posed the question. Read on for how the athletes answered.
One could argue that the question is meaningless, because in reality there is no such drug, and therefore no actual choice to make. Yet isn’t a form of Goldman’s dilemma already in evidence from athletes who take steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, despite the known side effects and risk of getting caught?
And what about NFL players who continue to play despite multiple surgeries, tissue-destroying cortisone shots, and concussions? Many former players are practically crippled or have symptoms of severe brain damage from concussions.
When I was growing up, I was taught that delayed gratification was a good thing. And anyone who works out has heard the phrase short-term pain for long-term gain. But the examples above are doing the opposite – obtaining short-term money and fame in exchange for long-term suffering. This is classically portrayed as selling one’s soul to the Devil.
And over half the athletes asked the “magic drug + death” question said they would take it, willing to take the short-term success in exchange for no long-term at all.
I bring this up due to something Randy Step recently posted in the Running Fit Events newsletter. He cited the recent sensationalist articles claiming that running hard is as bad for you as being sedentary, and that life is not prolonged as a result (read a more informed analysis here). Randy’s point is that we don’t run to escape death; we run to enjoy the experience and experience a higher quality of life until we do shuffle off this mortal coil.
“Would you rather be living it up and running every day until you are 80 and then just drop dead,” Randy writes, “or would you rather live a sedentary life, develop congestive heart failure at 80, spend 10 years in a nursing home with multiple disease factors, perhaps Alzheimer’s and no quality of life, then die at 90?”
Fortunately, studies consistently show that people who exercise live longer and also have a higher quality of life than those who are sedentary, so again this is a hypothetical choice. But I’m pretty sure I’d choose the “run every day, die at 80” scenario. Being active is about more than just staying healthy and fit. I believe it is a major contributor to my self-confidence and happiness.
As for dropping dead during a run, there have been races where I’ve felt pretty close to it. So far, so good, though. I’ll be sure to let you all know if I make it to 81.