Movement is about more than health

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Spring in their step . . . Emily Scott with children (from left) Hannah (10), Joshua (13) and Laura (8) Scott. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

COLUMN: Maintaining physical activity under lockdown conditions is vital to our wellbeing. Emily Scott looks at how to keep moving in the bubble. 

Were you one of those children who despised the dreaded “PE” and went to great lengths to avoid cross-country or those endless lay-ups? Yet here you are, voluntarily donning your lycra and sports shoes for a wee burst around the block, embracing the opportunity to reignite your exercise regime as the silver lining of the lockdown.

It might be the particular makeup of your household that is driving this sudden surge in activity such as a dog to walk or children in the bubble who seem incapable of sitting still. Or maybe, like me, you are simply enjoying the change in pace the lockdown has provided and find it immensely liberating to feed your soul and stretch your legs at the same time.

I now relish my daily early morning run, which is botha treat and investment in my wellbeing that sets me up for the day ahead. It is time to think, time to pray maybe, and uninterrupted time to tune in to what’s important.

On my journeys around the neighbourhood, I have never before encountered so many other people enjoying this gift of time and choosing to spend it . . . exercising. That simple word that gives us licence to go out under Level 4 restrictions, but I have my suspicions that it is also about other things. Some pretty important things, actually.

What is it that motivates us to move?

Researchers mount compelling arguments as to why regular physical activity is good for us, and many, including children, could recite the formula for health and fitness which consistently involves some variation on this theme: eat the right foods and do the right amounts and types of exercise. However, I wonder if the pursuit of health, in this simplistic and somewhat prescriptive sense, misses some true gems that are tied up in our embodied selves.

What if, in our efforts to make ourselves and our children more healthy through being more active, we are turning the privilege of movement into something much less attractive? Mundane. Routine. A task to be done. A duty or a chore. What if more exercise does not always lead unproblematically towards more health?

For close to an hour this morning, my three children battled gravity as they each attempted to put on a T-shirt while upside down in a handstand position. While this activity undoubtedly involved biomechanics, mental toughness, strategy, kinaesthetic awareness, core strength and flexibility, I would hazard a guess that they were far more interested in other things: responding to the challenge issued by their cousins, the marvel of being upside down (a position we are not in all that often as adults), the personal satisfaction in achieving the feat, and the pure joy of trying something different, together.

The social interaction, the personally meaningful challenge, rebounding from failed attempts, the delight in success and the freedom to discover and explore a novel way to manipulate their bodies was clearly evident. These are some of the gems we need to keep in mind in our quest for activity during this time of lockdown.

With schools shut and organised sport ground to a halt, some might be worrying that their children are missing out in terms of their physical skill development, but from what I am observing in my household, whatever is missing in terms of regular practices and games is more than made up for in less structured, unhurried, inventive and joyful play, arguably one of the first things to go by the wayside in a busy household.

In fact, now is an opportunity to see what they gravitate to and what captures their imaginations and interest when we are freed from the frantic cycle of after school activities.

It is worth considering that not all bubbles will feel particularly bouncy. Isolation for some will be a time of immense stress accompanied by feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

Families can be complicated places at times and when you add confinement and perhaps financial pressure into the mix, it doesn’t leave much energy for pursuing physical activity.

Seemingly simple things can seem too much. Some will have other struggles, maybe mobility ones, that make moving more difficult than for others. Gentle, simple and even restful movements can be really powerful strategies to employ if the huff and puff style of activity is not possible for you right now.

When we make physical activity all about doing ‘‘what’s good for you’’, we risk missing some of the truly magical meaning in moving. We miss some of those intrinsic motivators and rewards that keep us enjoying movement throughout life.

While we could see lockdown as a restriction on our movement, we could also see it as offering us a wonderful opportunity to explore, create, invent, discover and express ourselves, physically — to find movement that is personally meaningful, delightful and fun. If this is our aim, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got some of those prized health benefits too.

Footnote: While the rest of my bubble went on a walk this afternoon, I confess to attempting the handstand challenge and am pleased to report that I was indeed successful and it was a little bit delightful.

Emily Scott specialises in primary school physical education and is a Professional Practice Fellow and PhD candidate in the School of Physical Education Sports and Exercise Sciences.

Otago Daily Times