A recent report states that around one third of adults are not doing enough physical activity which is leading to 5.3 million deaths a year.
More worryingly it is estimated that two thirds of the UK population are inadequately active. Why is this happening?
I know I promised this blog to be about maintaining motivation, but to be honest, this topical news story is something I’m very passionate about and I’ve been engaged in some great conversations with clients, family and friends about it. So I thought I’d share my views, from a personal perspective and a professional one.
So, (*takes a large deep breath*) where do I begin? Because honestly, I could talk about this all day, every day.
Physical activity, just like nutrition and indeed having an overall healthy lifestyle, is a subject of very complex issues and varying factors. But we all know by now that being physically active improves our health. It can improve our physical health and it can improve our mental health. We know this. So for me, this report should not come as a shock to people. We’ve been told this stuff for years! However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be told it again and again. I think it’s important to keep getting the message across and especially comparing the devastating effects alongside the risks of smoking, which are well known and accepted in our society. And there, I think, lies the difference. Acceptance.
We know that smoking is bad for our health. We know it can lead to many ailments, a lower quality of life and to death. It is somewhat socially acceptable to frown upon smoking and nag your friends and family to quit because it’s bad for them. But we aren’t at the level yet of doing the same with physical activity. Why? Why don’t we nag at our friends because they drove in to work today instead of cycling or walking? Why don’t we tell our kids they have to be physically active just like we tell them not to smoke? Why don’t we decide to take the stairs every time, instead of waiting 10 minutes for the lift to come back up? Why don’t we just focus and make physical activity a priority in our lives each and every day?
Now, I know you’re probably screaming at the screen by now, shouting out all the reasons why you don’t exercise. I get it. We’ve all been there. And don’t get me wrong, there will definitely be people who have medical conditions or some other life situation that makes physical activity very difficult. But for the large majority of people, are their reasons for not being active genuine barriers or are they excuses? I’m not talking about pumping iron in the gym for two hours every day. I’m talking about just getting your body moving. Getting active! So let’s look at the top five barriers.
I have no time
Probably the most common ‘barrier’ I find with clients nowadays. Our lives are very busy and packed to the brim, so I understand where this statement comes from. But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and be brave and say (in the nicest possible way) – rubbish! We all have time. What I find most people actually mean, is that they don’t value physical activity as a priority in their lives so they don’t fit it in. If you manage to sit down and watch a 30 minute programme on the television every night, then you have time to exercise. You just decide to choose the television.
I don’t have the energy
This can be a downward spiral because waiting until you have enough energy can actually make you worse. The goals here are usually unrealistic and there is a vision of going from nothing to training in the gym five times a week. Starting to do something, no matter how small, will actually start increasing your energy. So get the support of a friend or give yourself a wee kick up the bum to overcome this barrier initially. Perhaps the previous Motivation blog may help!
It’s too expensive
Although many people love the gym and fitness classes, they do cost money. But we all know that going for a walk costs nothing. Now you may prefer to go to a paid activity, it might be something you want to take part in for social reasons too, but for the purpose of health benefits, physical activity doesn’t need to cost a penny!
I have three kids
This is probably the most important ‘barrier’ for me. This doesn’t need to be a separate event. Do physical activity with your kids! Ok, I know we all like some ‘me’ time away from the kids but getting kids active now is so important for our society never mind their individual health. They are being brought up in a world surrounded by sedentary pasttimes and technology, something our adult generations didn’t really have. General active play time in and out of school has been drastically reduced. If we aren’t active role models for children, then their health will surely suffer long before it needs to. We have to get out with the kids!
I will never be skinny and toned
Simply put, you don’t have to be. This barrier is a mental one, based on perceptions. Although becoming physically active is heavily weighted on personal responsibility, I feel major industries like the media and modelling, need to do even more to maintain consistent and realistic healthy messages about physical activity. Especially towards children. And I will explain why.
Skinny does not equal healthy. A thin person can have a high percentage of visceral fat (internal) but very little subcutaneous fat (under the skin), but to society they appear healthy. Wrong.
Likewise, having a bit of a spare tyre does not make you very unhealthy. But obviously you don’t want to be carrying a couple of truck tyres around your waist!
You may have noticed that I’ve never mentioned skinny, or thin, or weight loss. As a society, we have to adopt an understanding, and quickly, that not everyone will be the same. I’m glad to say I think we’re moving in the right direction on this, but still more needs to be done. Exercise comes with the vision of a thin, toned body. But we have to accept that some people will naturally be bigger, broader and yes I’m going to say it, fatter than other people! It’s nature.
So taking up regular physical activity should not have the end goal of being that skinny toned person we have come to imagine. Regular physical activity is for health reasons. It is not for the sole purpose of looking skinny and muscular. We should stop being so obsessed with the scales and start simply looking and listening to our bodies. We should take regular physical activity to be in the best shape we can, for ourselves, whatever shape and size that may naturally be.
So perhaps we need to shift our focus away from the barriers to participation for regular physical activity and start thinking, talking and recommending the benefits to our family and friends. Physical activity will improve your health (internal as well as external), help you strengthen your muscles (so you can carry out daily tasks easier and increase your metabolism), improve your cardiovascular fitness (so you can play with the kids more and strengthen your heart) lengthen your life span, and yes, it will also help you achieve that socially aesthetically pleasing figure!
But we mustn’t forget other major benefits, including mental health improvements, bonding with your children, exploring nature and simply enjoying time with your friends. So after I slam the door, put my keys down and I automatically find myself reaching out for the ‘on’ button of the TV to watch Paul Clark, I often think of these points and sometimes just back away (sorry Paul), walk to the back door and head out in to the garden instead. And I never regret it. Personally, and professionally, I think everyone should do this more often. Try going even a week without TV! It may just change your life.
We won’t get all the answers today, and knowing that I can talk the hind legs off a donkey on this subject, (and probably will continue to do so on Facebook now that there’s a fire in my belly), I’m not going to try to and I’ll leave you with my final thought.
There is no one size fits all, no one solution, no one easy way for everyone to adopt regular physical activity – we just have to find what is right for us – and then do it!
Are you going to?