July 29th, 2010
Fitness has been proven to promote a longer, healthier life. Sure, there might be some fitness deniers out there who, like Tom Cruise and climate change deniers, just can’t handle the truth, but the evidence has been mounting for years. If there isn’t air-tight causal proof that a sound body helps to achieve a sound mind then there is certainly an irrefutable association between one and the other.
Test after test has been administered to pre-schoolers and throughout K-12 systems across the world, all pointing to the same conclusions: success in school and in life is greatly enhanced by physical fitness. Even coach potatoes–maybe, especially couch potatoes–know this.
This is midsummer and whatever dedication there is to feeling right is in play right now. Every morning one sees shells of rowers bringing it up and down the lake, as many men and women have volunteered to participate in the annual St. John’s Regatta, scheduled for next week–weather permitting. It’s heartening to see such dedication to such a difficult, upper-body-challenged activity, but the Regatta is a strong local tradition and many have made it a goal to race at least once in their lifetimes.
Last weekend, St. John’s and neighbouring communities were the scene of the annual Tely Ten, a ten-mile race that drew about 2,700 people. That’s a lot of registered bodies aiming for the finish line. The morning was perfect—warm but not killingly hot, sunny but not glaringly bright, and with very little wind to undermine anyone’s pace. Much Gatorade was gargled, many blisters surfaced, many personal records were broken, including that of Steve Lawlor, a School of Graduate Studies senior staff member whose fine sweaty form is featured in the photo on display above. Steve finished in 36th place at about 6 speedy minutes a mile, an amazing achievement in a field of thousands. We in Graduate Studies are all very proud of Steve’s success. It seems to make us all feel, well, just a little more fit this week in the office.
Or is that just me?
Extensive research also shows that people who engage in regular physical activity take fewer sick days off from work. Over the years I have noted this pattern across many offices in the university, and among my colleagues, too. Physical inactivity has serious consequences on the workplace and on the health-care system. So why isn’t our whole office cigarette-smoking free and why isn’t everyone taking advantage of our university athletic program rates, a privilege for which many would trade their favourite Nikes?
I don’t want to sound like a fascist about this. I come from a family of jocks and team-sports players, and so being active came early and naturally. I fully recognize how difficult it is to make working out a regular feature of your day if you have never done so before. I also recognize how hard it is to give up the deadly nicotine habit. But… but… it’s so bloody bad for you. I still remain surprised by how small a percentage of the university community–students and staff–use the gym or the exercise rooms in any kind of consistent way. Year after year I see the same pattern: people with good intentions, especially after a summer of BBQs and beer, or a Christmas season of fruit cake and chocolate, resolving to get back into shape, as the saying goes. The gym is us usually blocked at these peak-anxiety periods, but that crush typically lasts for only two to three weeks before the regulars can reclaim the gym and the space in which they are used to pumping, running, or jumping. Like water running downhill, the body finds its path of least resistance, and before you can say “does this dress make me look fat?” old patterns of inactivity take hold.
I often wonder what it would take to motivate the university community to get with a full fitness program. Compulsory workout sessions each morning? The way many factories in Japan have institutionalized stretching and jumping jacks…? I’d be all over that, but I can hear the shrieks of protest now, not to mention the cries of rights violation—the right to be unfit.
Perhaps a large multi-disciplinary longitudinal research study, involving Human Kinetics and Recreation, Science and Engineering, Business Administration, Education, Arts, and Social Work: Memorial could be a model of such research, dividing the university community into test groups—with active and inactive subjects, students and staff, measured for performance and absenteeism over time. I feel a Reality Show pitch coming on: The Biggest Achievers.
I’m going with bribes for now. I don’t really think they work in the long term, but in the short term they’ll make me feel better. I have promised the finest, longest lunch to anyone in the office of Graduate Studies who is cigarette-free after 6 months. Some are breathing more respectably to that finish line right now, and so I hope they hang on to that commitment. At least I’ll get a good lunch out of it, too, not to mention the motivation to work it off.
Bravo Steve, numero 36 overall , and 3rd in your class! We salute and are inspired by your example.
Photo credit: Jim Costello