Oct 10 2015
Most of the ideas for these columns come from ordinary, everyday circumstances that would be altogether unremarkable were it not for the fact that the simple act of noticing them highlights the kind of changes that are taking place around us all the time.
I attend twice-weekly rehabilitation courses on living with COPD. They’re held in the Rehab Centre at KGH, and they’re essentially workout sessions supervised by physiotherapy staff and respiratory technicians. During one recent session, though, I was discussing flexibility with the young woman—younger than all but one of my granddaughters—who was helping me with my weight training exercises. She told me she has played competitive soccer now for years and there’s not much that she can’t do in terms of flexibility and pliancy, but she has always been absolutely incapable of bending forward from the waist and placing the palms of her hands on the floor…
Resisting the temptation to laugh and say, “No kidding,” I asked her instead why she thought that might be, and her spontaneous answer, delivered with a genuine, self-deprecating smile, opened up a whole new train of thought for me.
“Too much sitting,” she said, and then went on to explain what she meant. Young people today, she told me, spend far too much of their lives sitting down to almost everything they do. That constitutes an unprecedented societal change world-wide, and because of it, she said, it’s not unusual for young people like her to have failed to develop certain basic skills and abilities, like being able to bend over and touch their toes.
Now, that’s a very simplistic, bare-bones version of what this young woman said, and there was really nothing new in it—we’ve all heard the calls for Participaction and similar activity programs, all of them concerned with the very real need to break out of our sedentary lifestyles and treat ourselves to the inarguable benefits of simple, daily exercise. I’m a writer, so my own life is largely spent sitting in front of a computer screen, and I know too well that I haven’t been nearly mobile enough in recent decades. But hearing that acknowledgment emerge so calmly and unemphatically from the mouth of an intelligent, attractive and athletically accomplished young woman really made me sit up and take notice of just how unperceptive and set in my ways I’ve become. I realized that I’ve grown used to looking at familiar things without seeing them, taking them in all too often without actually paying any attention to them until something different or anomalous catches my eye and compels me to look more critically and see what’s really there, what’s really going on.
I live on a golf course, overlooking one of the fairways, and I love to watch the procession of very young children parading past my office window on those few Saturday mornings when our Pros and volunteers host special events for junior juniors, kids aged six to twelve who are most often accompanied by chaperoning parents. These youngsters, some of them pre-schoolers, run everywhere, apparently incapable of walking. They are so full of energy and enthusiasm, and so devoid of inhibitions, that I find their antics are pure therapy—a source of absolute delight. But watching them a few weeks ago, I realized that they were making me think, too, because I had started wondering about when young people lose the urge, the need and the desire to wear themselves out physically throughout the day.
When I was a boy I didn’t feel right if I wasn’t doing something strenuous. I played golf back then, in Scotland, but my primary passion was soccer—we called it simply football then—and I ran everywhere, and as a result of that, in my teens, I thought nothing of trotting the five miles to the nearest town on weekends to take my girlfriend for a long walk before I ran home again. But there was a time, not a hundred years before that, when everyone walked everywhere, and when they were in a hurry grown men might, and would, run effortlessly for miles.
People didn’t travel great distances then; their lives were lived locally and they seldom ventured more than ten miles from their birthplace, but most of them were strong and fit from working hard and playing hard. And when Company came calling, it was a special occasion and time to celebrate with conversation and socializing. With the invention of the railroad, though, and then the automobile, came dependence, and things started to change. Technology began to assert itself and people were more than happy to embrace it. And so today, people often sit at the same table without talking to each other, lost in the private world of their smartphones and tablets. Don’t ask them to do anything else, because they won’t want to. And please don’t expect them to talk. They’re all too focused on communicating to communicate the way we once did…