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Health and fitness thoughts

How are your new year resolutions going? I mean, it’s February now and we need to take stock if we’re only one month in. So, how are you doing?

I had coffee with a friend of mine who said “Because of Covid, I feel like this whole town is waiting for February to arrive before this year starts!”

If you’re only starting your year in February, your resolutions might be dead on track now that we’re only 4 days into February! But perhaps not.

One of the big clichés around new year resolutions is around health and fitness. There’s always a wealth of humour to go with that, which I’ll get into in the podcast.

But on the subject of health and fitness, I thought I’d pose this question: what does school teach us about health and fitness?

In South Africa, 31% of men and 68% of women in South Africa are obese (source). And 13% of South African children are classified as obese.

Let’s start with fitness. Here in South Africa, I think the main focus is purely to develop the next star cricket or rugby player. Certainly, that’s what the curriculum in schools looks like. I know, because I work in schools as a physical education teacher and sports coach. That’s the main focus, or at least it was until last year when the global pandemic put an end to sports matches, and sports coaches were left scratching their heads about what on earth they should be doing to fill the time?

In the middle of hard lockdown, my one mate at another school messaged me and asked, “Hey – what are you guys doing for school sport lessons?” and I replied: “Never thought I’d be Googling ‘prison workouts’… but here we are!”

I think the subtext in most SA schools was, and still is, to try and produce active adults. At least that should be the goal, in my humble opinion. But it’s hard to tell with school sport – which is mostly built around matches and fixtures, rather than wellness and knowledge on how to be well.

There are pros and cons to the system. I don’t think schools are the main problem. With obesity stats in South Africa as high as they are, the underlying issue is less around fitness and more around health and what you eat.

There’s so much to talk about here. As a parent, I know firsthand the struggles of getting kids to eat plants. They’d much rather eat animal fat or processed sugar. Like most South Africans. So I understand the struggle and how real it is. Flip, it’s real enough for me, how much more so for them!

We didn’t learn much about diet at school. We learned about metabolism theoretically and similar things in life sciences, but it was only when I left home and got married that I walked up to the fridge on day, opened it and thought: “I’m in control of this! I can eat anything I want!” and then… the learning curve really began!

I’ve spoken about this before, but children learn from parents’ habits. Both our activity/fitness habits and our eating habits.

I’m grateful to my own folks for the blueprint they gave me. My siblings and I grew up on vegetables and fish fingers and we watched my old man’s dedication to finishing 13 Comrades Marathons. It’s been a while since I ate fish fingers and I can’t lay claim to anything more than a half marathon… but in our family, we eat a lot of plants. Including peas.

I’ve learned it’s never too late to start when it comes to health and fitness. So whenever you read this, whether a month into new year’s resolutions or not, just remember that: it’s never too late to start.

And with that, I’m taking my kids for a workout.

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