Editorial Rant: Being active and enjoying sports, or is it "Physical Literacy" now?

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
July 2nd, 2015

As editor of this publication, I received a submission about “physical literacy” — apparently this is the new buzzword for being active and physically capable and confident.  I read it.  Confession: I found it depressing.

Depressing because — how long have people known  that being more physically active is better for people of all ages?  Getting a lot of exercise is so good for us — it helps us resist many diseases and helps us live longer and more enjoyable and independent lives,  it is an effective treatment for depression, it prevents osteoporosis, it helps prevent obesity, it helps to fend off dementia, and if we get a lot of our exercise out of doors — hiking, mountaineering, kayaking or canoeing, ski touring or snowshoeing — being out there prevents what has been called “nature deficit disorder.”  From the book “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Luov, a definition:  “Nature deficit disorder describes  the human costs of alienation from nature, among them:  diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”  

Now we have  produced yet another buzzword and accompanying program, complete with principles and methodology, to try to encourage people to become  more active, earlier in life.  This program is promoted on websites, and there are videos such as the one accompanying this rant, that show people how to find instructions for the correct and least harmful way of doing various (indoor) exercises.  But it didn’t look like much fun; it looked highly regimented.  It looked like work — to me, who grew up running wild, playing in the woods and fields, acting out a huge variety of stories generated by imagination.  I so wish that children today could still do that.

Here’s the official definition of physical literacy: the submission I was sent states,  “Professor Margaret Whitehead, University of Bedforshire, leading authority provided the definition as “…the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life”.  Physical Literacy is the journey of gaining physical movement skills to enable and encourage participation in sport and physical activity throughout a life span.  Furthermore, it is a well-established body awareness leading to fluent movement, which can be applied to any sport, or physical activity and is an understanding of the principles of holistic health leading to greater self-esteem and self-fulfillment.”

One of the factors in our current epidemic of inactivity is our addiction to electronic communication and social media.   Case in point:  here I sit, indoors, clattering away on the keyboard of my laptop, to post a rant about being active outdoors, in an on-line publication.  Such irony!  Of course I want people to read the articles in this publication … and it’s true that there’s a great deal of interesting material available on-line … not to mention all those touching and amusing cat (or whatever) videos.  But it would be better for me (and for you) to go outside and walk up a forested hill, and look at bushes and flowers and insects and birds and a few clouds, and the way water flowing down a streambed moves around stones and logs.  And to walk back home again after an hour or three or six. 

Perhaps many of us would be better off if our ill-prepared power grid and GPS satellites were all wiped out by a Carrington Event, because no doubt we would be forced to get more exercise, both physical and also mental … but many of us would be very adversely affected, for a very long time.   

Meanwhile, let’s get off these devices and go outside for a nice  walk somewhere — anywhere! — with no cell phone, and with no ear buds shutting out the world’s natural sounds and discouraging face-to-face conversation.  I dare you!   

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