When I moved from New York City to West Hartford nearly nine years ago, I was thrilled to be out of Manhattan and living in a less urban environment. I was moving to a home on a lake where I envisioned rolling out of bed for a morning swim, grabbing my bike from the garage, and donning my sneakers where I could immediately hit the road. It was a triathlete’s dream.
The reality is that living here has far exceeded my expectations when it comes to my training life.
But recently I realized that while I train even more than while I was living in New York City, I MOVE much less. In the course of my days in New York City, I walked two to three miles a day, without even noticing. I don’t do that here. I could walk to the Stop & Shop – it’s only a little over a mile away – but I don’t. I could walk to the pool for a swim – it’s less than a mile away – but I don’t. Why? Because “I don’t have time.”
At least that’s the story I’ve been telling myself this whole time. Now, however, I’m starting to do a little re-writing.
Two years ago, two seemingly unrelated events occurred. The first was that I had surgery. I plan everything, so this surgery was planned at a convenient time for me, my family, and mostly my training. It was the off-season; thus I could accept the amount of time off necessary to recover. Maybe physically I could use the time off, but mentally I thought I would go crazy. However, the surgery was necessary and I would, I kept telling myself, survive this downtime.
The second event was that I discovered a book called American Idle; A Journey Through Our Sedentary Culture. While driving, I heard the author, Mary Collins, speak about her that led her to write it on NPR. I was intrigued and inspired by her interview. At a red light, I wrote down the name of the book and when I got home, purchased a copy. (FYI, she’s currently a professor of creative writing at Central Connecticut State University).
I decided to read the book as part of my recovery. American Idle chronicles how the American people have stopped incorporating movement in their lives. Our ancestors, the hunters and gatherers, had to move to get their next meal. This could mean up to four miles a day on foot. For most Americans to get their next meal they only have to get off of their couches and walk to the kitchen. It’s easy to see how many of the health issues in this country probably stem from our lower levels of activity.
But as Collins’ book points out, “Personal responsibility only goes so far; lots of things out there that we feel we can’t control contribute to our biblical levels of slothfulness. Studies show that something as simple as a bike path near a neighborhood can increase people’s activity levels as much as 25 percent.”
My surgery and the discovery of this book were the perfect storm. As I read, I started to think about how I could incorporate regular movement into my daily life as well as for my children (now 10 and 6).
Both of my children are fairly active. They each have physical education (called P.E.) at school four days a week. On nice days, they’ll run around outside, play basketball or ride their bikes around the neighborhood. My 10-year-old daughter is on a swim team that practices three times a week. My 6-year-old son takes gymnastics and is constantly doing cartwheels around the house.
I still fear that as school gets more challenging and the computer, Sony DS, and their iPods compete for their free time, they might lose that desire to just play and be outside. As a very active adult, I didn’t want to just model healthy behavior, I wanted to create a situation where she could start to lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle that she would carry into adulthood. Was this asking too much?
Collins points out that “with each succeeding generation, children spend less time in gardens, around streams, in woodlands ... The rise in organized sports, with its emphasis on structured activities, coincided with the rise in obesity, as people became less and less at home with free play and other spontaneous movement.”
I realized that as fit and healthy as I am, what good would it be if my children were to become yet another statistic?
So I came up with a plan. Sofie’s piano lesson is 1.2 miles away from our house. We could give ourselves 30 minutes to get there. We would wear headlamps and bike lights on our way home once it got darker.
Now I still had to convince Sofie that this was a good idea. Surprisingly, she agreed, with no argument. On our first day, she walked a bit slowly. She told me she couldn’t go any faster. I told her if she didn’t pick it up, we’d be late. We eventually got there and she was elated and proud when we arrived.
We continued to do this for the next five weeks and her pace picked up quite a bit. One day it was a little rainy out. I told her we could drive and she said, “We have raincoats and rain boots, we can still walk. PLEASE??” So we put on our rain gear and walked.
A side benefit of this healthy movement is the bonding time. I was so focused on getting regular movement into our lives that I had no idea how much we would love just being together – outside – exploring.
We continued our walking until the swim season was over. As the weather got colder, we took out the hats and gloves. Sofie was completely on board.
Two years later, my children’s schedules are tighter still. I struggle with finding small pockets to get simple movement into all of our lives. We walk to our neighbor’s each morning for a school car pool, even in the rain and snow. And sometimes we will walk the one mile to the local pool.
Mary Collins’ book has opened my eyes about what it means to move and connect with the world around us. Thanks to her, I am connecting with my children in ways I never thought possible. We view our walks as adventures and our relationship is much better for it.
I felt the need to tell this story because as a coach I am always pushing my athletes to go faster and get stronger. I now know that there are other ways to stay healthy and fit. It doesn’t all have to be so focused on “the workout.” Finding enjoyment in any kind of activity has a value as well.
I did end up resuming my triathlon training when my body healed. However, my walks have continued. Time is always an issue when it comes to prioritizing our daily lives, but it’s worth re-evaluating how we move throughout the day and in our lives. Here are two suggestions:
- Figure out where you can find 15-20 minutes a day to go for a walk. It might mean a few less minutes on the computer or leaving the dishes in the sink. Try taking a walk during your lunch break and eating a light lunch at your desk. When shopping, park at the outskirts of the mall.
- Pick up a copy of Mary Collins’ book, American Idle. Read about her fascinating story and transformation. Learn about what has contributed to the vast sedentary lifestyle of over 65% of Americans. Collins also suggests ideas on how we can change your own behavior as well as open your eyes to the obstacles we all face and how we might be all be able to be part of the movement movement.
I know that triathlons – both training and coaching for them – have changed and enhanced my life. But, movement for the sake of movement, without a transition or a finish line, has also had a profound impact.
Yes, walking is almost like breathing, something many of us take for granted. But, this experience of re-learning how and why I move has re-energized me as well as my family.