Ethical Fitness: 5 Tips for a Healthy Body, Mind & Planet

Ever thought you really can’t be bothered but after the event found yourself saying “That felt good. I should do that more often”?

I don’t know what you’re thinking of; I’m talking about exercise. Thinking about it is the easy part. We love the idea of exercise. Buying the appropriate apparel, the new trainers, the fancy equipment….so much more exciting than actually breaking out into a sweat. The good news is that for us ethical consumers, we can make some of these purchases with a clear conscience – yoga mats made from natural rubber or organic cotton; fair trade volleyballs; recycled fleeces; fair trade leggings; ecological bike cleaner or recycled backpacks. That’s a good start.

We all know that it’s good for us. The NHS leaflet I was reading about Depression the other day (as you do) lists exercise as one of the great self help remedies. It makes you feel better – the scientists tell you so; you know it for yourself. My children’s Primary School have Morning Exercise (a la Chinese) for all children every day – it’s said to stimulate the mind and be a great start to the day. It’s actually my daughter’s favourite part of the day. The Government Change4Life campaign states that active kids are happy kids – actually, that’s pretty true in my experience too. Whether I like it or not, my younger children are like dogs and are all the better for a runaround in the fresh air every day.

But being human, we either find every excuse not to get fit or go mad and get completely obsessed. Exercise to excess leads to sports injuries, over-competitiveness; health issues; an unhealthy obsession that consumes all our time and money. As usual, moderation is called for. To be honest, I’ve yet to reach the level where moderation is an issue. As for many of you, I suspect, the aspiration far outweighs the reality. Our local tennis club doesn’t miss a trick. It knows how to tap into aspiration. It holds open weekends during Wimbledon, for all those who sit in front of the TV, itching to get a racket in their hands. An opportunity to transform that inclination into action, sign on the dotted line for a year’s membership and then spend the next 364 days making up excuses not to get on court again. (or for those less cynical amongst us, to rediscover a long lost love for the game and a newfound fitness).

I can’t help wondering (as I do on a weekly basis) if we have not all gone a tiny bit mad. We purchase every labour saving device known to man and then join a gym to work out. We distance ourselves from manual work and then realise that our bodies actually need it. When I was in Malawi last year, my friend remarked to a woman on a foot treadle pump in the blazing sun that people in the UK pay good money to go to the gym for exactly the same kind of workout (as I said, mad).

So here are my five top tips for regaining (assuming you ever had one) a level of fitness this summer:
1. Discover the joys of gardening. Our garden is so overgrown through years of neglect that I certainly have my work cut out. I hear allotments are the new cool – get digging, weeding, pruning. You couldn’t work more muscles if you tried.
2. See housework as a form of exercise. Instead of investing in miracle products that do the work so you don’t have to, rediscover the satisfying combination of more natural household products with a fair dose of elbow grease – a great result all round.
3. Leave the car at home. Take the time to walk or cycle. It may take a real effort to hang up the car keys, but you will feel better when you get there. One of the greatest ironies in my life, which my husband is quick to point out, is driving to the gym; one day, I will silence him.
4. Play with the kids. I don’t know if all kids are the same, but I can’t send mine out to play – they want me to go out with them. How can the kids be inspired to be active if I sit and watch from a garden chair? Why would they think being active is fun if no-one is modelling it for them? This is a real trial for me. I didn’t enjoy outdoor games as a child – why on earth would I enjoy them now? But I do enjoy seeing my children learning how to hit a ball, skip or play hopscotch. So I play for ten minutes and then sit watching for ten minutes – a happy compromise for all.
5. Arrange a summer of activities. Call me mad, but I have come up with a summer of fun – a sheet of pre-arranged activities with a meeting place and time – and given it out to all my friends. A bike ride, a walk to the pub, an all-age rounders match, Sports Day…we’ll see who turns up and have fun with whoever does – the more, the merrier. At least it will get us out and about.

This is all common sense. As I said at the beginning, we all know the theory; it’s turning it into practice that’s the problem. These are my modest aspirations. Let me know some of yours. I have five children off school for seven weeks coming up. Seven weeks of not being able to get to the gym and needing to find my exercise in other ways – so the more ideas I receive from you, the better.

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  • Jo Bowlt

    Great picture: my 18 month old toddler loves me getting down on the floor to do a few yoga stretches though he tends to sit on top of me which is not always helpful. His downward dog is rather better than mine and there are some videos demonstrating yoga with toddlers so, inspired by your blog, I think that we’ll dig one out and have a go at a bit more than my usual five minutes of me trying to stretch while my son plays “let’s sit on mummy’s back and play horses/sit on mummy’s tummy and do row row row your boat as mummy tries to strengthen her tummy…” etc. All good fun!