When all else fails, just move. That’s the message of this Provision. It’s a message that’s hardwired into our genetic code. For thousands and millions of years, the human being has been a motion being. We are meant to be physically active and strong, far more so than most of us are today. For the past hundred years, our fitness and, in turn, our health has been slipping away. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Take it from Jack LaLanne who, at age 92, still exercises two hours per day: it’s not beyond anyone to move.
Although his presidency lasted an all-too-brief 1,068 days, I remember US President John F. Kennedy better than any other President of my youth. Unlike today, when terror has become part of the cultural landscape, President Kennedy’s assassination was a real show stopper. I will never forget the school bus driver abruptly stopping the bus on a steep hill, commanding total silence, and then announcing that the President had been shot dead. I, along with my mother and much of the nation, spent many days in front of the television (which switched to 24-hour news coverage for the first time ever). I can remember her telling me to pay attention, because this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Oh, if only she had been right.
I remember many other things about President Kennedy, including, of course, his famous remark, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He also asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the “common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” We are still fighting those enemies, and it seems appropriate • given that it is Memorial Day weekend in the United States • to memorialize one of our truly great leaders. It was an age of idealism that infected me as a youth and lives on yet today.
Three things stick with me as to President Kennedy’s time in office. One was the creation of the Peace Corps. Although I never served in the Corps, it became a model that I followed through the Appalachia Service Project and my time in the inner-city of Chicago. We were all paying forward to create a better world. Another was the challenge to put a person on the moon before the end of the decade. Kennedy did not live to see that day, but I had the privilege of sharing a stage with Neil Armstrong, the first person on the moon, not long after he returned from that distant and hostile environment. “We choose to (do this and) other things,” President Kennedy asserted, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Which leads to my third sticking point • the hardest of them all, or so it seemed at the time. In 1956, President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to serve as a “catalytic agent” concentrating on creating public awareness. President Kennedy, after he took office in 1961, changed the name to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness to reflect an expanded mandate. The Council continues to this day to “advise the President through the Secretary of Health and Human Services about physical activity, fitness, and sports, and to recommend programs to promote regular physical activity for the health of all Americans.”
Soon after President Kennedy changed the name and mandate of the Council, Meredith Willson (of “The Music Man” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” fame) composed and Robert Preston recorded a song that is remembered by just about every baby-boomer who attended elementary school in the 1960s. That’s because the song • “Go You Chicken Fat, Go” • was distributed to every school in the United States with the idea that it would be played over the Public Address system in the morning while students did calisthenics. Imagine Harold Hill leading a Jazzercise class, and you get the idea.
For many of us, myself included, the song lives on in infamy. First of all, it’s one of those jingles that you can’t get out of your head (“Give that chicken fat, Back to the chicken, And don’t be chicken again. No, don’t be chicken again.”). Second of all, for those of us who did the six minute and thirty second workout routine day in and day out during gym class or at some other time during the day, we remember sweating and groaning our way through the drill: Toe Touches, Push Ups, Toe Touches, Push Ups, Marching In Place, Sit Ups, Torso Twists, Pogo Springs, Jumping Jacks, Marching In Place, Arm Circles, Bicycle Rides, Deep Breathing, Running In Place first Slow as a Tortoise than Fast as a Hare. Finally, “Everybody sing! Go, you chicken fat, go! Go! Go! Dismissed!”
Phew! I used to dread that song, as Robert Preston’s perky voice ratcheted things up to a frenetic pace. You can listen or even move to the music yourself, if you dare, by Clicking Here.
Long before President Kennedy and the 1960s, America’s first physical fitness guru, Jack LaLanne, was busy in San Francisco with the same mission: getting people in shape by getting them to move. Born in 1914, LaLanne lives on today with a vigorous fitness regimen at the age of 92. As a child, LaLanne was addicted to sugar, junk food, and acts of violence (he set his parents’ house on fire and attacked his brother with an axe). After hearing a lecture by Paul C. Bragg, when he was 15, LaLanne and his mother became convinced of a connection between his diet and his violent acts. As a result, LaLanne turned his life around by adopting a strict diet and exercising daily.
Two of his maxims became, “If man made it, don’t eat it.” and “If it tastes good, spit it out.” In what represents an early version of the Paleolithic diet and the Optimal Wellness Prototype, LaLanne gave up sugar, coffee, processed foods, and dairy products in favor of whole foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish. Diet alone would not have done the trick, however.
“If all else fails, just move.” became LaLanne’s third maxim. And move he did. At a time when strength training was not in vogue, LaLanne developed not only a vigorous daily regimen, involving swimming and weight lifting, he also developed the first weight machines in the country. Today, such machines are standard equipment in the fitness industry. In 1936, LaLanne opened his first health spa and in 1951 he became the first TV fitness personality with shows that ran until 1984, when LaLanne retired from television at the of 70.
To celebrate his 70th birthday, LaLanne fought strong winds and currents as he swam 1.5 miles, handcuffed and shackled, while towing 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach, California harbor to the Queen Mary. He had done crazy stunts like that all his life, including a number of world records (such as 1,033 pushups in 23 minutes and swimming the entire length of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, underwater, with 140 pounds of equipment, including two air tanks).
But one doesn’t have to be that extreme to follow LaLanne’s third maxim, “If all else fails, just move.” In fact, ironically enough, for more than thirty years on “The Jack LaLanne Show” he focused primarily on exercise aimed at homemakers, using items found around the home. LaLanne demonstrated that it’s not only possible, it may even be preferable, to get in shape through everyday activities rather than through athletic contests.
That’s why we first made the suggestion that you shift your body frequently throughout the day. What could be simpler than that? It’s a far cry from Chicken Fat or Jack LaLanne, but it is a step in the right direction to stand up and to sit back down, for example, at regular intervals throughout the day. Or to get up to change the channel rather than to use the remote. Or to turn your head all the way in one direction before turning it all the way in the other direction. Such gentle movements are essential to Optimal Fitness.
But they’re not enough. That’s why last week I encouraged you to step it up a notch with Ron Jones’ “Dynamic Warm Up“. In less than six minutes, and with none of the Chicken Fat frenzy, Ron takes you through a series of 10 warm up exercises that replicate the balance, reach, and strength requirements of everyday activities. I find Ron’s routine to be a great prelude to more vigorous exercise.
This assumes, of course, that you have no physical limitations when it comes to exercise. Even the “Dynamic Warm Up” may be too much for some people. When in doubt, check with your doctor. One way to check yourself is with the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q). Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following seven questions:
- Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
- Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
- In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
- Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
- Do you have a bone or joint problem (for example, back, knee or hip) that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
- Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs (for example, water pills) for your blood pressure or heart condition?
- Do you know of any other reason why you should not do physical activity?
If you answer “Yes” to any of the questions, see your doctor first. You may have to follow special instructions in order to ease your way into an exercise program. But some form of exercise will work for just about everyone; even heart patients do better when they get the body moving. That should be your orientation. You’re not asking your doctor if you can exercise; you’re asking your doctor how you can exercise. Remember LaLanne’s maxim: “If all else fails, just move.”
- If you don’t have much energy, just move.
- If you’re feeling kind of groggy, just move.
- If you’re depressed and down in the dumps, just move.
- If you have too much work to do, just move.
- If you’re feeling anxious or afraid, just move.
- If you can hardly eat another bite, just move.
- If you’ve been sitting at your computer too long, just move.
- If you want to spend time with someone, just move.
- If you need to clear your mind, just move.
- If you don’t know what else to do, just move.
LaLanne put it quite succinctly when he said, “You eat everyday, you sleep everyday, your body was made to exercise everyday.” Those are the things we have been doing since the beginning of time, only now we are eating more, sleeping less, and moving hardly at all in comparison to our ancestors. In 2002, for example, 25 percent of adult Americans did not participate in any leisure time physical activities in the past month, and in 2003, 38 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 viewed television 3 or more hours per day. No wonder we have so many health problems! President Kennedy’s mandate has not been fulfilled; indeed, we’ve gone backward rather than forward when it comes to physical activity in the past 40 years.
Here are the current recommendations to promote health, psychological well-being, and a healthy body weight:
- 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity, in addition to whatever you normally do at home or work, is the bare minimum.
- Doing more than that in both intensity and duration generates greater health benefits for most people.
- 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity assists most people to maintain their optimal body weight.
- 90 minutes per day supports weight-loss for people who want to reach their optimal body weight.
This means that not even Chicken Fat, as exhausting as it may be, is enough activity on a daily basis. Six minutes and thirty seconds just isn’t enough (although it felt like an eternity in the fifth grade). We need to warm up and then to challenge ourselves with a combination of aerobic activities, strength straining, stretching, and balance work. The more well-rounded the regimen, the better.
Moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, such as walking, running, swimming, or cycling, form the base of the exercise pyramid. That’s not because they are more important than strength training, stretching, and balance work; that’s rather because they take the most time.
Next week we’ll talk about aerobic activities that you may want to add to your daily routines. Between now and then, you might find it illuminating to keep a movement log. Write down your movements throughout the day, including their starting time, duration, and intensity, to get some sense of your activity level. Are you at or below the 30-minute level? The 60-minute level? The 90-minute level? Awareness is the keystone to change.
Coaching Inquiries: What are your favorite activities? Do you do them as much as you would like? Who do you enjoy doing them with? How could you increase their duration and intensity? How could you make them more fun?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
In your last Provision, Warm Up, you refer to the lazy way dogs wake up, with yawns and stretches. That may be true for domesticated animals, but wild animals leap into action without warming up beforehand. Not everyone thinks it’s so important to warm up; being consistently active is the key. (Ed. Note: Thanks for pointing this out. I will have more to say about stretching in the weeks ahead.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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