Can you feel it? I certainly can. I finally got out for my first bike ride of the year after hibernating and training indoors on my bike trainer. The weather conditions weren’t great, as I saw cool temperatures, a little snow, a little rain and for a very brief moment, a little sunshine. But who cares, I was back outside breathing fresh air and being reacquainted with my old friend, "Mother Nature". My step brother who lives in the South of France has been rubbing my nose in his even earlier re-introduction with the French version of Mother Nature since February. Regardless, I'm talking about Springtime….and even though the French enjoy it two months before those of us that live in Alberta, it's just around the corner and I can hardly wait to get out of my basement gym and into the great outdoors on a regular basis.
That said, not everyone thinks this way. In fact the majority of North Americans continue to turn inward, even though the outdoors is calling them. Something is certainly wrong with this picture, as over 60% of all North Americans are either overweight or obese and the thought of being active is considered by many as an unnatural act. When I was travelling through France last year, and trying my best to learn little bits of their language, I found out the French don’t even have a word for “fat people”. Or as Paul Rudnick commented in a mock-Parisian tone in The New Yorker last week. “If a woman is obese in France,” he wrote, “we simply call her American.”
Of course, North America’s national branding of size comes with a host of deadly degenerative diseases like: Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many different kinds of cancer and all the medical costs that come with them, and you and I pay dearly for those that are obese due to inactivity and poor eating habits.
Spring is also Tax Season in Canada and let me remind all my Canadian readers that our healthcare system isn’t free, as many argue when comparing it to the US system. If you pay $50,000 in taxes, you are paying approximately $22,500 in healthcare fees through your taxes, and this is on top of your provincial health insurance premiums (except for Alberta). And let’s not forget that North Americans also voluntarily spend $55 billion on diet related products or services, which inevitably fail.
The sad part is; the solution is sitting right outside the door….and it’s free! For the last couple million years of human evolution, we have been a species that chased things to eat, or ran away from being eaten, or did physical labor necessary to grow our food. As a result we ate what was only needed, we took in Vitamin D from the sun (the best know antioxidant) and exercise was built into our lives (just like the French Paradox I wrote about last year). There were no gym clubs to belong to, we were simply active. And in less than one generation’s time, hundreds of millions of people have completely decoupled themselves from Mother Nature and all her health benefits.
There’s a new term for the consequences of this divorce between human and habitat — Nature Deficit Disorder,coined by the writer Richard Louv in a 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods.” It sounds trendy, a bit of sociological shorthand, but give the man and his point a good listen. Louv argued that certain behavioral problems are caused by the sharp decline in how little time children spend outdoors, a trend updated in the latest Recreation Participation Report. For example, the number of boys aged 6 to 12 who engage in some kind of regular outdoor activity continues to slide. I wrote a blog last year about my observation that children no longer play outside in the numbers we used to see. Growing up, I remember my mother kicking me out the door in the morning and telling me she didn’t want to see me again until noon for lunch and again for dinner, and finally again when the street lights came on. And all mothers did this. Today, Social Services would be called in for this kind of parent behavior.
You can blame technology all you want, but behind every computer screen-dominant upbringing is an overly cautious parent that thinks there’s a “bogey-man” around every corner waiting to snatch their children. Understandably, we want to protect our kids from “out there” variables. But the fact remains that these over protective parents are setting their children down a lifestyle path that ends up in a long slow death.
Kids who do play outside are less likely to get sick, be stressed, or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns, and Louv said, since his book came out, things have gotten worse. “The average young American now spends practically every minute — except for the time in school – using smartphones, computers, televisions or electronic devices.”
It's time to change this trend and make this year, the year that you and your family shut off the electronics and rediscover the great outdoors. Your body will thank you.
Enjoy the Ride….Rob