Physical Activity is NOT about Jocks vs. Geeks

I’m always interested in how the media spins different studies on healthy living, and a recent Lancet article pointing out the need for people to get more physical activity in their day brought out all the usual stereotypes.

Within two days of the study’s release the Globe and Mail ran two different opinion pieces, David Eddie brought up his experience of ‘being bullied’ by the jocks in school, and that not everyone has the capacity to be an elite athlete, pointing to his own lack of physical prowess compared to his wife’s (who made fun of his ‘leisurely’ cycling pace). The studies say though, that his bike rides count too, as would the ‘aerobofascists’ (which is meant to get a rise out of the reader, but come on Dave, play fair) who create these studies. This is a false dichotomy – getting your 150 minutes a week of physical activity is not about elite training, it’s about getting out there and moving at your own pace, whether that’s a walk, a run, or a sprint.

I would suggest everybody take a look at the 23 ½ hours clip on YouTube – really there’s lots of time to sit, read a book and laze about, but add in a 30 minute walk too.

The second Globe article was, I felt, more balanced. The reporter, Carly Weeks, tracked her own physical activity over two days, including walking for errands on her lunch hour. She was surprised at how easily the 150 minute total was reached. And I think that’s the point really, that you can achieve those 150 minutes by adding to everyday activities by commuting to work by foot or walking to do your errands or taking a swim, all of these small increments of activity add up to better health.

I thought this quote summed up David Eddie’s straw dog accurately:

“Physical activity” doesn’t have to mean donning spandex and biking for half a day. Somewhere along the way, we have confused “exercise” with being physically active, which may be sabotaging our own efforts to get moving”, said Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

The attitude underlying David Eddie’s article, however, is a common one, and may lie in our own childhood or teen experiences. I know that I would have fallen more in the geek than jock category myself. But the need to move really is a human trait, so the question for me is how do we inch our geeks over to more activity.

The work being done currently by organizations like Canadian Sport for Life or 2010 Legacies Now with the LEAP program to improve physical literacy in children as young as preschool, I hope, will reduce this dichotomy. If we all learn our physical ABC’s early, to throw and catch a ball, move efficiently, get the basics of play just as we get the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic we’re on the way to a healthy, active life (for all of us, geeks and jocks alike).

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy and Programs
July 2012

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