Growing up amidst the changing face of exercise

Friday, September 28, 2012 Permalink

After a few angsty posts I thought I’d lighten the mood a little. It being Friday and all.

I was out walking early yesterday morning, doing laps of a nearby park – a fave locale of mine. As usual the track around the park was pretty busy with walkers, joggers, pram-pushers and dog-owners. It’s school holidays here, so there were also more kids and families out and about than is the norm.

I’d noticed a man and young boy (maybe 5 or 6 years old) on an earlier lap. They’d been running and stopped to do some (box) jumps (sans box) at one of the exercise stations around the park. When I next saw them I noticed the kid bending down onto the ground and wondered what they were doing. As I approached however I could see that the dad was teaching the youngster how to do burpees (an important lesson in life!).

Although I’m being a tad trite I actually was impressed at the father-son efforts. It reminded me of the importance that role-models play in our children’s lives and how our behaviour (as parents, relations, friends or other adults) can shape a child’s beliefs, behaviour and habits.

I grew up in a very active family – something I took for granted until I was older.

My own father was a talented athlete, representing his State in Rugby League and excelling in sports like tennis. Although not able to compete later because of injury etc, he played tennis and squash at various stages of my life; in fact he played tennis even after his heart transplant and into his 60s.

My mother played netball as a youngster and as an adult played netball, basketball and squash. In fact, I have memories of my entire family participating in weekly squash games at a local centre. (Well, when I say that I mean my folks and my older brother. I watched and partook in lollies – especially musk sticks – from the squash centre shop!)

My brother and I were encouraged and expected to play sport. We both tried a few things before (mostly) focusing on basketball. Growing up our lives were as much about sport – games, matches and training – as anything else.

Coming from a small town, my friends were similarly inclined – though many with different interests. We all pretty much did ballet of some sort until we hit double figures and needed more time to devote to other sports. Field hockey was a popular sport amongst my friends, for example.

Which is why, when I got to University (having moved to the ‘big city’) I was shocked to find people who’d NEVER PLAYED SPORT. These people begrudged their physical education classes at school and despite other hobbies, hadn’t ever participated in individual or team sports!

The concept was foreign to me. I’d grown up with the notion that sport was a part of life. My anorexic need to exercise aside, I grew up with the belief that one didn’t exercise for exercise’s sake. One ‘trained’ for something. Even at University, I had enough basketball and netball training sessions and games a week to mean that any other form of exercise was rendered redundant.

Obviously as time went on, ‘life’ happened.

And then somehow, sometime I rebelled. BIG TIME. I stopped doing everything. I gained weight. Exercise became a dirty word. No longer was physical activity about ‘training’ but rather about ‘exercise’. It was about burning calories and NOT BEING FAT.

My own fucked-up-edness aside, it occurred to me yesterday that I was given a most-excellent start in life on the fitness and exercise front. I might not be able to swing a bat for shit, but I can catch and throw balls; I’m pretty coordinated; I can follow instructions and pick up steps or moves quickly; and I’m aware of the need to be cognisant of  my teammates those around me.

As I looped around the busy park it also occurred to me that the face of exercise has changed a lot over the course of my life. My own mother attended some ‘national fitness’ program when we were toddlers, but (at least here in Australia) aerobics (a la Jane Fonda) really didn’t make an appearance until the mid 1980s.

Soccer_children_sports_active_1Once upon a time walking was something you did to get somewhere. This often occurs to me now when I’m out and about and see myriads of people of all ages, shapes and sizes out walking. When I was growing up going walking for exercise was almost unheard of. Sure, you’d go for a jog if you were in training, but walking or power-walking. Hmph!

Health and fitness seems higher on the agenda now than it once was. Perhaps it’s because our lives are more sedentary that we need to pump weights and pound the treadmill. Or perhaps we’re just busier and need to be more efficient when finding time to focus on our health.

Whatever it may be or however jaded we can get as the latest exercise craze or training technology hits our shores, there’s one thing that I think we can keep doing either way, and that’s walk the talk. We can encourage our kids to lead healthy and active lives and we can show them how it’s done.

Do you think you are a good health and fitness role model for your kids, or those you come into contact with?
Is there more we (individually or as a society) should be doing? 


  • Priska
    September 29, 2012

    I remember wearing that netball uniform. Playing sport was not exercise, it was just what we did for fun. We also played hopscotch, hoola hoops, jumped rope and cricket in the backyard. Walking to school was normal, as was adventuring into the bush, building cubbie houses and billy carts so that we could fly down hills. The list could go on.
    I am not sure when exercise became a chore. I still think this is fun. But when I mention going on a hike or some sort of adventure, none of the next generation want to come, they think it’s too hard work, that’s unless it’s walking around a shopping centre.

    • Debbish
      September 29, 2012

      Yes Priska… until a certain point exercise was just sport – I guess it was cos I was training for something or participating in something. Perhaps when I stopped playing ‘sport’ was when I needed to exercise just for the sake of it. There’s exercise I enjoy (I like dancing for example) which I don’t see as a chore – though it’s still ‘exercise’.

  • Jo Tracey
    September 29, 2012

    My Mum always said if she felt the urge to exercise she’d lie down until the feeling passed. Yet she’s the same weight as the day she got married. She’s into incidental exercise. She’s also never had the hangups that my sister & Brother & I have over food. Yet, I have another sister who at 44 still battles with major eating disorders. As a kid I swam &, while in a country town, rode horses most days. Yet I never engaged in competitive sport. I was the asthmatic one, the one with the back issues, the smart one, the clumsy one, the one who can’t catch or throw. My dad has always been able to pick up anything that involves a ball & blitz it. Now, it makes me wonder.

    • Debbish
      September 29, 2012

      I have a girlfriend who’s lost HEAPS of weight in the last 5+ years (despite three kids). There are four of us who catch up a lot and we remaining three are constantly battling our weight, focussing on the gym and exercise etc but this other friend has just been fading away by keeping busy – lots of incidental exercise as you say. It’s like that joke about people who drive 5mins to the gym to walk on the treadmill!

      I suspect once upon a time we were all just more active (less technology at our fingertips). I outsource stuff like cleaning and gardening whereas my parent’s generation wouldn’t have done that unless super-wealthy. I suspect if I did more around the yard etc I wouldn’t need the Pump classes!

  • Char
    September 29, 2012

    I feel like I’m a good role model for my kids but only one of the three exercises regularly. They all did sport growing up – athletics in summer and soccer in winter but once they left school it just became harder to fit it all in. But I’m hoping their childhood lessons and my example will bring them back to it when they realise its benefits.

    • Debbish
      September 29, 2012

      Char, it wasn’t until I was responding to another comment that I realised that once I stopped playing sport (requiring training sessions etc) exercise completely changed for me. I guess it’s the commitment to a healthy and active lifestyle we can hope we pass on!


  • Marion
    September 30, 2012

    Hi Deb! Your mom is so cute in her outfit!! And your dad so dashing!!

    I grew up with sports, with very athletic brothers and cousins. I was not considered to be very athletic in my family. Definitely, the emphasis on winning turned me off to sports. I didn’t exercise for more than a decade (my 30’s).

    My kids enjoy working out with me. Even the teen kids do. My teen son sometimes weight lifts with me, and thinks I should show more women how to weight lift. My daughters are more inclined to do yoga with me. The teens are a little annoyed that I can do a few fitness exercises that they can’t do, but overall, they are very proud of me. My older girls report home via phone about their exercising. We have lengthy discussions about this.

    🙂 Marion

    • Debbish
      September 30, 2012

      Hee hee Marion… of course my parents are attractive… where do you think I got my exceptional good looks?! (Hee hee, again!)

      It sounds like you are a great role model for your kids – I’m sure they are proud of you, but you of them as well!


  • Gordon
    October 2, 2012

    I suspect because I wore strong glasses from quite an early age I was never encouraged to participate in sport, especially ball games, either by my parents or my school masters. One of my uncles became a role model. Getting home from work he’d roll the weights out from under his bed and spend ½ hour lifting before his evening meal. He didn’t lift heavy weights but did lots of repetitions. It was his way of keeping fit for other activities. He was an all-in wrestler too, so was quite agile and had to know how to land properly when thrown about the ring.
    But it was his outdoor activities that interested me most – caving, mountaineering and walking the hills in remote areas with the Yorkshire Rambler’s Club. Inspired by him I took up caving (we called it pot-holing) for around ten years until I decided I’d rather climb up in fresh air and sunshine, rather than down into black depths. I joined a mountaineering club and was soon leading climbs up to ‘Severe’ standard in Snowdonia, the English Lake District and western Scotland. I went on to walk/climb all 284 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft).
    It wasn’t until aged 54 that I found my real talent – running – the one that has given me most satisfaction and rewards. If you’ve visited my Blog you’ll know I’m still at it, aged 80, and still enjoying the thrill of running in wild and lonely places – though I’ll reluctantly admit that racing, to win, is maybe taking more out of me now than is possibly good for my old heart. But it’s like a drug, it gets me ‘high’ and I still get a buzz from hearing my name called at prize-givings.
    Sadly, none of my children have followed my example. My daughter loves to swim. My eldest son was into heavy weights and body-building, competing in local and National competitions – though he’s given it up now but still trains in the gym regularly. My youngest son has never taken up sport or serious exercise of any kind, but his manual work keeps him in good physical shape. So there you are, that’s us. Hope I haven’t bored you!

    • Debbish
      October 3, 2012

      Oh Gordon, what an inspiration… (and I’m heading to your blog now!). And no, you didn’t bore me.

      It sounds like you were a good example for your kids, just as your uncle was for you! (As I read your comment I was remembering my father working out with something called a “Bullworker” – some metal thing that also had straps and you pushed it in and out… very 1960s or early 70s perhaps!

      And finding running at 54 – how amazing! (I’m 44) and about to move to the seaside and have visions of myself ‘running’ along the esplanade. (It’s a bit aspirational at the moment as I can’t even get through week 3 of the Couch to 5k program.) At the moment I HATE running and have a lot of strange feelings tied up with it (I think I’m bad at it and it’s too hard so I dread it and it becomes terrifying!). But… your later-in-life discovery gives me a sense of hope.

      I’m hoping for a whole new lifestyle when I move and you’ve made me think it’s possible, so thank you so much for that!


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