[VIEWPOINT]Exercise can cure many ills

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[VIEWPOINT]Exercise can cure many ills

More than 20 years have passed since I first got involved with sports. I took on work at the Korea Judo Association at the recommendation of a friend, and thanks to my active participation in group meetings and ability to take care of tasks without much hassle, I became the president of the International Judo Federation in 1995 and received the honor of being appointed as a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2002.
Being involved in large sports events like the Olympics and the World Judo Championship, I realized that sports and company management have a lot in common. The two are similar in that both need a clear goal and strategy, require a division of labor and teamwork and need new talent to help them grow.
In my opinion, a variety of physical activities are necessary for the healthy development of modern society. Physical activity is not only good for physical health, but is also good for psychological health. Children can especially benefit by learning the importance of observing rules and developing the spirit of cooperation as they play sports with other children.
People have different physical activity needs at different points in their lives. First, people start to think and act by themselves during childhood, and at this stage they can learn how to socialize by playing various games and sports with other children. Children understand and follow rules as they play, and this helps them later to understand law and the order of society.
Unfortunately, the laughter of young children running around outside has vanished from our neighborhoods nowadays. Children are sent to cram schools and forced to attend private tutoring classes at a time when they should be socializing with friends.
Even children themselves prefer to stay home and log on to the Internet or play computer games in their room instead of playing with other children. In the few cases where children get involved in physical exercise, it is usually not a cooperative sport such as soccer or baseball but an individual sport such as taekwondo so that they won’t get beaten up by other children.
This tendency grows worse as children grow up to be adolescents. The adolescent period is when people should learn about cooperation and the wisdom of living with others. However, our youths are busy studying late into the night so that they can enter a good university. Korean youths of today have bigger physical frames, but their physical strength has weakened drastically.
Consequently, it has become harder to teach them rules and cooperative spirit through games that would help them develop social abilities to be used later in their life. That is why people generally criticize today’s children as selfish and egoistic, with no idea of what teamwork is.
Boys at least have the opportunity to experience the importance of cooperation by serving in the army, but girls do not have that chance. It is a cause for concern because the dangerous behavior by children, such as violent bullying, that has been reported in the news seems to be coming from a lack of sociability that should have been developed from their childhood.
Investment in physical activities is also compulsory for a healthy old age. A healthy life is a proposition that has the highest value for anyone. It is a blessing especially to be able to spend the dusk of life healthily, when physical functions normally slow down.
Living a long life is not important, but living a healthy life is. Lying on a hospital bed while trying to postpone death is a burden to a family ― just like the saying: “There is no faithful son to a long illness” ― and it is a burden to society.
There are many people who maintain a much younger physique compared to their actual physical age, thanks to regular exercise. They say that consistently exercising is 30 times more cost effective than not exercising. For instance, by buying a pair of sneakers for 50,000 won ($50) and walking in them until they wear out, you can save more than 1.5 million won in medical expenses in your old age.
Korea’s medical fees are increasing at a rapid pace each year, causing health insurance premiums to rise as well, and huge subsidies from the national treasury are required each year to make up for the the health insurance deficits. All this comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.
The best countermeasure to cope with the problem of the health insurance deficit is to make physical activity a part of people’s daily lives, so that they can maintain their health and prevent illnesses.
We need a new awareness on daily physical activity. We need to see it as an educational method to cultivate social skills in our children, as a fundamental prescription for the problem of our young people who deviate from society, and a welfare policy that can help overcome the problem of social alienation of elders in our society.

* The writer is the chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the International Chamber of Commerce. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-sung
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