Grunting while lifting heavy objects, running upstairs, wiping off sweat – part of your daily life? Probably not. We successfully eradicated physical activity from our life, as much as possible. Instead we reserve a sweet spot for exercise in our diaries. When we feel like it. Or have spare time. Truth is we all prefer to take the lift, drive the car. Or even better: do nothing. Unless people are motivated to look and feel better or their doctor’s prognosis of impending diabetes or heart disease have provided sufficient fear.
This isn’t really news. In 2012 10% of the population of Australia aged 15 years and over said they were on a diet trying to either lose weight or other health reasons. We know that our screen time, which means sitting in front of work computers and TV’s at home, is taking up 58 hours per week of an adult life. Only one in ten Australians takes the recommended 10.000 steps per day. Hands on your heart, are you “moderately active” for 30 minutes most days of the week as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests?
Profoundly baffling health advise has been rare: we know that our diet and exercise affects our health, our heart, organ and brain functions, mood. Everything we do, from the foods and drinks we choose (or not) to ingest to the amount of time we move, influences who we are, how we feel and how productive we are. Also no news is that these daily choices aren’t great: 63% of all Australians are overweight and obese. The prognosis isn’t rosy: most of us will develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the future. If these are too abstract a term think amputated limbs, clogged arteries, lost eyesight. Lost quality of life.
Yet, what are we doing about this? Nothing.
Occasionally swapping a muffin with an apple just won’t cut the mustard. Taking a walk on the beach on the weekend doesn’t mean our sedentary lifestyle has just been turned around. Signing up to Jenny Craig or buying a gym membership may be fueled by motivation. But statistics don’t lie and they tell us that neither diets nor gyms are the solution to our current conundrum.
Creating lasting change in our diet and lifestyle requires a basic understanding of two driving forces: motivation and habit. Motivation means a person has a reason for acting or behaving in a particular way. This reason could be to feel happier, look slimmer or it could be an upcoming test at our GP. We consciously remind us of the reason for our behaviour and this conscious process doesn’t last for a long time. Habits come into play. Habits are a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Habits don’t need reminders. We just do.
If contemporary diet and lifestyle are causing diseases, the only solution is to create a culture that fosters healthy habits.
There is no easy quick-fix. Our current culture favours all of the habits that make us sick: from city designs that put cars first instead of active transport like the use of buses, trains, walking or cycling. Poor quality food that is cheaper, faster and sweeter on the pallet. Think of any celebration whether it is Christmas, Birthdays, ANZAC Day or Easter, each one comes with its own set of sweet treats that are part of the tradition. Think of how we treat each other: You’re sad? Here, have a piece of chocolate. You did great in an exam? Congratulations, have an ice cream.
If we want to change a situation caused by a multitude of factors then there is no one solution and neither policy changes nor sole individual champions can be the answer. One thing is clear though if we do want to change anything we can’t start with nothing. We’ll have to tackle everything. From consumer driven demands, fairer access to better infrastructure all of it must be on the table.