October 20, 2015
Yesterday I spent the day at Oval Cricket Ground where a fabulous conference was being held by Public Health England to mark one year since they launched their Physical Activity framework Everybody Active, Every Day.
Now, I had missed the launch event of this last year…or perhaps I just wasn’t significant enough to get an invite back then, but I have been working really hard of late to make a case for the Too Fat to Run movement to play a bigger part in delivering public health outcomes, so this was great timing and I must admit I had a whale of a time.
The day started out with a clubbercise session, I kid you not it was awesome watching a whole heap of men in suits dancing at 9am in the morning with glow sticks in the dark and it really did set the tone for the day which was jammed packed full of keynote speeches, workshops, seminars and demonstrations…I do however have just one little moan.
CAN WE ALL JUST STOP BLAMING THE NATIONS SOFAS PLEASE???
Seriously, in the first half an hour of the day I must have heard the phrase “getting people off their sofas” more than 5 times. I actually quite like my sofa thank you very much. It’s comfy. It’s long enough to kip on when I’m shattered, and it’s where most of the fun stuff happens at home with my family. So why on earth should I be made to feel ashamed for having somewhat of a love affair with it.
Joking aside, there is a serious level of shaming going on when it comes to this notion that people need to get off their sofas. Now I get that we need to encourage people to be more active more often, and activities such as playing computer games, or watching boxsets or daytime TV for hours on end can add to some of the nations growing health problems, but I hate the way that inactive (and often FAT) people are so frequently portrayed as lazy.
Office workers are often inactive but their backsides spend most of their time on computer chairs and train seats which can see them spending up to 14 hours a day seated, check out assistants, and control centre staff can be inactive for similar reasons too…yet we don’t start campaigning for everyone to start burning their adjustable office chairs do we?
Plus when we start talking about “getting people off their backsides” are we not by default offending the 750,000 wheelchair users, or the millions of elderly people who spend much of their time in their chairs. Surely physical activity provision looks different for these groups too. See, just like sofas…one size does not fit all.
There is a well used (or overused in my opinion) phrase in the running world which is “I’m lapping everyone on the couch” and I get the sentiment behind that especially when plus size runners use it as justification for their slower times or coming last, but sometimes you have to wonder why people are on the couch and realise that by shaming people who spend time on their sofas you are adding to the perceptions of who the inactive are.
But it seems like everyone is at it. Earlier this year Leicester University in an article labelled the new “sofa generation” as the main cause of Type 2 diabetes with Professor Melanie Davies, an internationally renowned expert in Type 2 diabetes and Co-Director of the Leicester Diabetes Centre, saying
“We are spending more and more of our lives sat down being inactive. We all live in a much more sedentary society now where it’s easy to spend the majority of each and every day sat down either at our desk working, socialising and shopping as well as banking.
“However, this sedentary lifestyle does come with consequences and unless people move more they could end up with unwanted health complications. We are becoming the sofa generation and this inactivity, together with an increasing consumption of unhealthy foods and obesity, is leading to more cases of Type 2 diabetes.”
Which is all real scary stuff, and evidence if ever we need it that we should ALL be moving more…EVERYDAY!!!
However, when I think back to the moments in my life where I spent extended time on my sofa it has normally been when I have been ill, or injured, or depressed…moments of great unhappiness…so adding to that with a wagging finger is not the way to go about things.
These days for me though being on a sofa represents well deserved and often infrequent downtime, and a vital opportunity to relax and recover (which is just as important for an athlete), and for many people with really busy lives the sofa is where they get respite and rest their weary bones. So come on give us a break….don;t stop us from enjoying our sofa time.
On Monday I start an online pilot of my 5 weeks to 5k programme with 70 women from across the country, and today I have been analysing some of the baseline data collected via a survey, some of the results are very interesting with almost 70% of the participants stating that they are not currently meeting the governments recommended levels of activity, with the same amount stating that they can not run for more than 60 seconds at a time, over 90% self reported as being overweight or obese, and more than 50% said they struggle with depression.
Over the next 5 weeks I will work with these women to boost their confidence, increase their activity levels and basically give them the opportunity to succeed, the focus will not be on naming and shaming those who do not do their 3 sessions a week, it will be on encouraging and supporting women to fit their sessions in around their busy lives, celebrating each and every session.
The ladies will support each other on an online forum with tales of blisters and hecklers, and open up about the struggles they face along the way…but we will also have a whole heap of fun in the process, because exercise shouldn’t be a chore, it should be exciting, sociable and energising.
Inactivity just like obesity is a complex issue, and it requires a range of solutions and useful conversations about the spectrum of people we are trying to support, not endless stereotypes about who these people are and more important than all of this it perhaps what is required is just a bit of humility.
Nobody likes to be preached at, or shamed into exercising…we all know how that feels, we want to be inviting people to take ownership of their own health outcomes by showing them alternatives to their sedentary lifestyles which enhance their quality of life (while at the same time lowering the costs to the NHS).
It was great being at that conference yesterday and hearing first hand what the challenges are, and I am more determined than ever to be part of that solution.
I know through anecdotal feedback that my strategies and systems for getting women more active changes lives, what I need to do over the next few months is prove that it also has an effect on health outcomes, and that my programmes can be used to tackle diabetes, obesity and inactivity where required too…so look out for a number of pilot programmes in your local areas.
In the meantime though simply get involved with the campaign by challenging stereotypes and supporting your loved ones to find exercise and movement that brings them joy…you could also send your local politicians and decision makers this way too if you like…it might get them rephrasing how they talk about inactive and overweight people a bit too.
Right, must dash…this blogpost has taken me two hours to write and my backside can’t take any more, I am off for a brisk walk to pick up my daughter from nursery…it will be very brisk….I am already 10 minutes behind schedule.