From the time I was young and well-into high school, I was always active. From soccer to volleyball to track and field to ballet, I wasn’t picky – I loved to move, I loved to compete, and I loved being part of a team. That all changed when I was 15 after experiencing back pain that a chiropractor thought was a pulled muscle. But, after visiting a sports medicine doctor with an MRI in hand, I was diagnosed with degenerative discs and end plate fractures in my lumbar spine. This meant no strenuous physical activity for at least 6 months. Little did I know, this diagnosis would have the most significant impact on my lifestyle moving forward.
Not surprisingly, the physical pain I experienced paled in comparison to the emotional toll the injury took. I remember returning to my physical education class after my visit to the sports medicine doctor and sitting on the sidelines, watching my peers with envy as feelings of frustration and sadness washed over me. At the time, I experienced a huge shift in health across many dimensions. Because of this, my injury led to a number of “aha” moments, some right away, and others years later.
Despite my initial disappointment, I found myself starting to think about what I COULD do instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t. It became an opportunity to reflect on what physical activity brings to my life and why it’s important to me. It has meant that I’m more in tune with my body. It has given me the opportunity to try new things and embrace other forms of physical activity, like walking, biking, and hiking – I even joined my school’s curling team that winter. It has ultimately led to a realization that physical activity participation goes beyond competing to win. It impacts my energy, my outlook, my stress levels, my focus, my body image, my pain…the list goes on. It continues to shape my health and well-being, and remains a critically important part of my lifestyle.
In December 2014, the National Health and Fitness Act, Bill S-211, became law, where the first Saturday each June is now known as “National Health and Fitness Day” – a day when Canadians are challenged to get out and get active in support of our country becoming the Fittest Nation on Earth. While initiatives like these may stem from our country’s physical inactivity crisis, each person’s motivation to be active looks different and I’m not here to prescribe a physical activity plan for you or your students to get in your 60 minutes/day. But, I am here to encourage you to talk about the importance and benefits of physical activity with your students.
As educators, National Health and Fitness Day is an opportunity to discuss the importance of physical activity and its connection to health and wellbeing, recognizing that each student’s motivation and ability to be active will be different. In recognizing and understanding the uniqueness of each student’s story, my hope is that educators will be better prepared to offer quality physical activity experiences that motivate each student to remain active well-beyond their time spent in school.
Challenge your students to be curious and explore physical activity opportunities. Consider asking them to: identify why they want to be active identify how they want to be active, identify who they want to be active with, and embrace what they are capable of. To stop looking at their barriers and start looking at their assets – the strengths that exist within them and the opportunities that exist in their community.
My hope is that Canadians can discover ways to be active that are meaningful to them and supportive of their physical, emotional, social, and mental health. For information and resources to encourage physical activity, visit phecanada.ca/activate and phecanada.ca/programs.
Kendra MacFarlane, M.Sc., B.Sc.
Former Program Coordinator
Physical and Health Education Canada