Heads On Trolleys - How Not to Be One!
Are you in good physical shape?
Do you think we are fitter and healthier than we were in the 1980s having been inspired by countless ‘keep fit’ crazes and gurus for 40 years?
What’s happened to exercise?
A few years ago, I read an article about P.E. being reduced in school curricula in the UK. It said that children risked becoming ‘heads on trolleys’ as they disconnected from the physical body to spend more time on academic achievement.
As a yoga teacher and ex-lecturer, this worries me. Whilst schools and businesses acknowledge the importance of wellbeing, the ever-changing and increasing demands in the workplace, mean physical movement is often relegated down the to-do list, or considered as an add-on, an ‘extra’ rather than an integral part of our lives.
A recent investigation by the World Health Organisation found that, in Europe and the USA, 50% of women and 40% of men are insufficiently active, compared with South-East Asia where it’s 15% and 19 %.
What’s gone wrong?
Like everything nowadays, physical activity has become an industry, a business with fashions and trends. We live in a social media driven society, bombarded with the latest fitness fads and images of beautifully toned (and airbrushed) celebrities. Quick fixes which come with a price tag. For those who do exercise daily, it’s often done at specific times of day, in special clothes, in a particular place that charges lots of money – and they leave believing their ‘exercise’ is finished. It’s as if movement has become something that happens separate from our lives rather than a natural part of it.
Humans frequently do things through subconscious conditioning, as opposed to what would benefit us as individuals, and our decisions about physical movement are no different.
In fitness or in health? First of all, ask yourself if you want to exercise more for fitness or for health? Are you training for something specific, like a half marathon, or do you simply want to keep your body moving and healthy – for life?
My advice is to be a generalist, not a specialist, and adopt exercises that encourage longevity over short-term performance.
What should I do?
Get outside - the world is your gym. Spend at least 20 minutes in green and blue spaces each day, where you will absorb up to 30,000 lux on a bright day, as opposed to just 500 lux in a brightly lit room. Lux – the way we measure light – impacts our circadian rhythms too, so we sleep better. According to Dr Ranjan Chattergee in ‘The Four Pillar Plan' a recent study found that exposure to bright morning light correlates with lower body weight. Interestingly, Ayurveda, a four-thousand-year-old medical system, purports getting outside first thing as well! So, walk or run first thing, and use a pedometer to aim for 10,000 steps a day. Do this with a friend or family member so that you encourage each other and catch-up face-to-face.
If you enjoy swimming – try wild swimming! There are swimming groups cropping up all over the country and it is very addictive.
Do I really need to exercise regularly?
Yes, in a word. Every day, but as part of your day – take movement ‘snacks’. I encourage a short daily yoga and breathing practice. 15 minutes isn’t enough in terms of the exercise you need – but it is enough time for you to connect to your physical body and notice it. The breathwork helps to still the activity of your mind (this is the goal of Yoga). A short daily practice sets the intention for healthy habits for your body.
Don’t have time?
Yes, you do. Keep a detailed diary for 24 hours and note how much time you spend browsing online, watching Netflix, etc. If you genuinely do not have time, get up 30 minutes earlier, before everyone else, and go for a walk. Cut something else out of your schedule and make exercise a priority.
Like everything nowadays, physical activity has become an industry, a business with fashions and trends. We live in a social media driven society, bombarded with the latest fitness fads and images of beautifully toned (and airbrushed) celebrities. Quick fixes that come with a price tag. For those who do exercise daily, it’s often done at specific times of day, in special clothes, in a particular place that charges lots of money – and they leave believing their ‘exercise’ is finished. It’s as if movement has become something that happens separate from our lives rather than a natural part of it.
Finally, way back when I was an army officer, I was impressed by the Army Physical Training Corps’ motto: ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ meaning a healthy mind in a healthy body. So true. This phrase is widely used to express the theory that physical exercise is an essential part of psychological wellbeing, and to be fair the military still builds physical training into the working day. Perhaps this is a motto you could encourage in your own workplace?