We’re living in the Past
We romanticize about being an active nation, full of people who are ‘go-getters’; Physically capable, rugged, can-do people. We’re not this. The Rise of the Device has changed the landscape for the next generation growing up in NZ today. The screen has captured the attention of not only the children of the future, but also their parents. Our dependency on social media has come at the cost of our physical literacy.
The reality is that almost a third of secondary school students aren’t meeting the national guidelines for physical activity. 11 percent of our young people are obese and a further 22 percent are overweight. We have the fourth highest Childhood Obesity rates in the OECD. Shame.
Today it’s as if presenting an image of ‘being physically activity’ to the world is fashionable. In fact, ‘the image’ is prioritized over actually demonstrating any form of physical activity. Heaven forbid one should sweat in that activewear. We’re more interested in putting today’s Nike outfit on our Snapstory then insta that #fitspo #selfie that took 25 takes to get just right.
The digital world has provided a platform for multiple realities to exist with ease. Social media in particular gives us the ability to construct any range of identities we can conceive – including identities which suggest we are more physically active than we really are.
Prioritizing the importance of play and physical activity is becoming less important to my generation of digital natives raising children today. In fact our kids are the first generation ever to have a life expectancy shorter than us, their parents. 5 years shorter in fact.
My Physical Literacy
Interestingly, despite the overall decline of physical activity – we New Zealanders have taken to the US based Strength and Conditioning program known as CrossFit like a duck to water. Currently, there are 117 independently owned and operated CrossFit Affiliates in New Zealand, we have one of the largest participation rates in the program per capita in the world. (At this point – it’s probably feasible to assume that everyone reading this knows of CrossFit or you know someone whose into ‘the CrossFit’. Actually, If you are reading this – then it is even more likely that’s you.) Regardless of the increase in participation in programs like CrossFit and CrossFit Kids – we, unfortunately – are not the sum of the population.
I have been around people who take ownership for their health and well-being long enough to see how much of a positive impact prioritizing physical activity can have not only on their personal wellbeing, but the flow on effect it has for people around them. They are a pebble dropped in a pond. I do sometimes ponder if the appeal of CrossFit is limited to a particular sect of the community; people who are too competitive to play social sports but still thrive in the social environment provided by being part of a community of competitive practice.
My interest in being a part of the solution – instead of just harping on about the problem – has brought me to my current role working for the University of Auckland on the Sport NZ Play.sport project. The aim is to foster an environment where we all enjoy lifelong participation in physical activity. For this to happen, we need to improve our physical literacy.
Physical Literacy is a holistic approach to developing a love for being physically active across all ages and stages of life and it involves much more than the physical ability to express yourself with competence. It incorporates the social dimensions of participation and enjoyment along with the mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. For example: socially speaking, a huge barrier to participation in physical activity is having a lack of support from people around you and you are more likely to engage and enjoy being physically active if you participate in a group or with friends.
For me personally, I know that CrossFit has allowed me to express a love of being physically active across a time frame of 5 years so far. My physical activity levels are higher than they have ever been (post secondary school). CrossFit appeals to me because I am social, I enjoy the company of like-minded individuals past the physical element of trying to compassionately kill each other in a workout. The people I have met and formed relationships with as a result of being involved in the “Sport of Fitness” have become bastions in supporting my social and mental/emotional well-being. This is a part of physical literacy.
Being a part of the 1% of the population who compete at the Regional level of the ‘CrossFit Games’ means that having other athletes around who are on the same wavelength is important. Apart from the obvious benefits of having other athletes for training purposes and finding intensity in my daily training sessions – we have the same season calendar; Not drinking every weekend, rarely hitting the town and fitting in training around whatever other social events you have on can leave you pretty isolated. Especially isolating if you don’t have people around you who are understanding and considerate of the sacrifices you make.
As I’ve moved through the experiential model of figuring out what works for me it’s no surprise that I have come to the conclusion that at least 60% of the reason I enjoy CrossFit is the social benefit I get from being involved.
Sometimes I liken humans to zombies in an episode of The Walking Dead. The last concert I went to I looked around and thought about how all of us had come together to experience the same thing in a single cell environment. Some of us shared the day on our Snapstory with all our followers who weren’t there in an attempt to make them feel FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). As I glazed over the crowd of enthused festivalites I mused on how we can have a shared experience and not say a single word to another human for the entirety of the show. Crazy. Crazy Zombies.
That basically is how I feel about group fitness classes that have no element of Whanaungatanga. No connection. Single cells in a group. Operating in unison.
What I like about CrossFit is that the community element is a culture of practice ingrained in the rubber mats. There is no avoiding it. There are some bloody interesting people in a class of CrossFit enthusiasts. I definitely would not be able to scale the country or travel the Tasman without the authentic connections I have made with other people who are involved in CrossFit. I would argue this is the case for many types of physical activities, maybe even the group fitness kind – pumping and spinning away each day. In saying that, I played Netball for 20 years and social get togethers were always a bit hit and miss to organise and participate in. They usually came second to whatever was happening on the Rugby Calendar of home and away games. Our social events were always more successful when lined up with theirs – it was rural Wellsford though; Not really a thriving metropolis. The point I guess is that being physically active will allow you to make connections with people. Even the unlikely.
I remember just after I had started training in CrossFit there was one girl who was so staunch. She’d come from a kickboxing gym and she was tough – she had the shit kicked out of her in her last fight and decided to give CrossFit a jam with her hubby; an attempt to avoid more broken ribs. I didn’t think she liked me much. She took her time sussing me out from a distance before inevitably – we ended up great friends. Since then we’ve been halfway around the world, USA, Australia, NZ, we even have a soundtrack and she’s one of the first ones I want on my team in a friendly competition. CrossFit removes the ability to form unsubstantiated assumptions about people working out across the room from you. Getting to know the people around you is great for removing stereotypical ideologies you may not know you carry about other people. CrossFit attracts all ages and demographics so it’s fantastic for challenging preconceived ideas and opinions. You can’t be Physically Literate in isolation. I don’t want to be a zombie. Physical activity will help you relate to others better.
Put the Screen Down
This brings me to the solution. I’ve never cared much for the specifics of how people choose to be physically active. As long as you personally find something FUN and worth pursuing, then that’s fine by me. I appreciate that things which appeal to me (like CrossFit) will not appeal to all, and even inside the activity I enjoy – the gym I choose to train at may not have the culture of practice which appeals to others. There is more than one way to skin a cat. There are 116 other CrossFit gyms to choose from.
One thing I am certain of – parents are the most influential role model for kids. Parents create “normal” for kids. If active parents are “normal” active kids are the result. I had lunch with a friend last week, we spoke of how she felt guilty that her kids were in the CrossFit gym for hours while she got her training done. She felt selfish.
I asked her if her kids are into and fitness stuff – She told me her 3 year old son said to her husband “Dad, I want to be strong…! Like MUM!” I would love to see more parents involved in their own physical activity, lead by example. Why do your kids always want your iPhone? Because you’re on it. They want to be like you. Put your screen down.
Let’s get back to simpler times, when we knew the neighbours by name, played kicks in the street – because it was fun and better than watching Hogan’s Hero’s reruns. Put the screen down. Just live in the moment for a minute and enjoy it for yourself instead of needing to ‘share’ it with an online audience – isolating yourself from the other people who took the time to experience that moment with you. Enjoy being physically active and up your physical literacy, so when you end up in a patch of no reception surrounded by zombies you can cope with interacting with other humans face to face. Even better – your improved physical literacy might even help you thrive. Mind you – I’ve always been a big fan of survival of the Fittest.