Some notes on how I came up with this game and why it is the way it is?
These are the stats from the Ministry of Health, New Zealand self-rated health survey as revealed in their 2016/17 Annual Data Explorer.
- 88% of adults reported their health to be ‘good, very good or excellent’ and 98% of parents rated their child’s health as ‘good, very good or excellent’.
- Yet, nearly 100,000 children aged 2–14 years (12.3%) were obese as were 1.2 million adults (32%) and only 10% of students in New Zealand were achieving recommended WHO activity levels.
I’ve seen the same among clients and friends who told me they were ‘fit ate well and were not lazy’, they were also obese, ate poorly and couldn’t walk more than a few blocks. I don’t believe they thought they were lying to me. They just had no objective way to ascertain their true state of unhealthiness.
I’ve also met champion cyclists that couldn’t swim, swimmers that couldn’t run, runners that couldn’t do a push-up and people that are great at push-ups unable to balance on one leg. These are people who are easily doing the recommended amount of exercise each day and who would consider themselves ‘fit’ and more than likely they would be cardiovascular fit but are they ‘fit’ in the broader sense of the word, i.e. are they functionally fit.
I’ve seen these types of stats and stories for years and years, revealing a huge disparity between people’s beliefs and what in my opinion is the reality of the situation.
In a similar vein there is a disparity not just around what ‘fit’ actually is, there is a disparity around how to get there. I’ve met very overweight people who doing 10,000 steps but whose heart health hasn’t improved and they haven’t lost any weight. They also can’t walk up a hill or carry a couple of shopping bags, get the lid off a jar or get themselves up off the ground if they fall over.
How to conquer disparity
One year I asked my 15 students in an exercise science course if they ate the minimum recommended amount of fruit and veges.
They all said yes.
They then did a dietary recall over 5 days.
Not one of them reached the NZ minimum of 2 fruits a day and 3 veges on more than one day in the whole week!
The way to conquer disparity is by testing.
To be fair, testing itself is not difficult, what’s difficult is
- convincing people of the need to do them. My students in the above example saw no reason to test their fruit and vege intake because they didn’t see that it was an issue.
- offering tests that are useful. That can vary from person to person and from one situation to another, so there really needs to be some adaptability and choice in what tests are rolled out and for whom.
- doing the testing in an enthusiastic, educational, non-intimidating, and empathetic way. The last two go without saying, although I admit easier said than done. The first two I think are essential but in my opinion often overlooked other than by coaches of athletes and some good personal trainers, who totally get this. They know that results are information and provide clarity of direction and for that reason they are enthusiastic about the process and sincerely interested in the person in front of them and that counts for a lot in terms of setting the right mood.
- providing the results in a meaningful and useful way. No point telling someone the have a VO2 of 33mL/kg/min if they have no idea what that means. They need to know what that means, how it compares to others, how and why they might want to improve their own result.
- providing clarity around how to improve upon the results. People crave direction and simply telling people to get fitter is not direction.
One week I created 100 ‘tests’ and decided if people could achieve 50% of them, then in my opinion they were functionally fit. They included a huge variety of tasks from being able to climb out windows, to getting the lid off a jar, treading water, walking 2km, sprining for 30 seconds, being able to throw a 5kg weight etc as well as having a healthy blood pressure, body fat level etc
In a similar vein I knew I could think of 100 nutritional steps and 100 lifestyle ones that would go a long way to helping people pass those tests and generally be healthy.
What is functionally fit
and less likely to suffer from injuries or illness.
In 2011 a large earthquake hit Christchurch where I was living at the time. 185 died and 164 were injured.
One of the first things that struck me was the number of people unable to adequately help themselves after the event. People who didn’t have the fitness to walk a few kilometers home let alone carry a child. Who couldn’t climb out a window to safety, or get off the ground if they fell over or hike up a hill to ensure they would be safe in a Tsunami.
To be fair, there was lots of people around to help other people at the time and lots of people’s limitations were not avoidable by simply being fitter but I’d argue that lots of people would have been much better off immediately after the event and in the years that followed, had they have been.
At the time I was running a 20 Week Challenge and that year, because of what I saw, I added a team challenge requiring people to put together survival packs, push a wheelbarrow or pram and hike off road for 5 km. I desperately wanted people to be better prepared and fitter for similar situations in the future.
It also made me think more seriously about my list of 100 tasks.
A fitness checklist, how exciting! Not.
I came up with a list of 100 tasks that I thought everyone should aim to be able to do. Tasks that together were evidence of people having a basic level of functional fitness. Of people that in my opinion, based on the research I had seen, were less likely to fall over at work, or on the netball court, to have headaches or backaches, shoulder or gut problems, they would be more able to cope well in emergencies, to be able to rescue others instead of be rescued. That type of thing.
I was so excited by my list. Friends were excited by the list. I thought I would give the list to the world and everyone would be excited by it. How wrong could I be!
My friends and I are fitness trainers. We would go running in the hills all day in sub zero temperatures, 365 days a year given half a chance. Of course they would be excited by a list of 100 physical tasks. As you can probably imagine the 80% plus of people that aren’t even doing the minimal amount of exercising weren’t and since they were the reason I chose the career I chose it was time to find another way to deliver them.
You can give everyone a pair of sneakers and it won’t make any of them go running. Sneakers aren’t the answer or at least not unto themselves. It’s no different to us dishing out our 100 tasks. To have people do them we needed to fit them into a game.
There are 1000s of ways to help nudge people into action and to keep them moving forward. In my experience the more we use the better. Deploy just one or two and we may well have something that looks pretty, is easy to roll out and evaluate, even gets a big initial uptake, but is not actually transitioning them into being ‘exercisers’ and/or helping them to be functionally fit.
The best programme is my mind is complex and layered. Something that is much harder to build and won’t be an easy sell because it’s not as simple to pitch.
In a Steptember challenge, you take 10,000 steps a day for a month. Everyone gets a pedometer. You can form teams. There’s prizes at the end. Easy.
In Planet Kaha players
so easy on the eye but it works.
It’s common for apps to incorporate one or two motivational leverages
If you tell them that using the sneakers will help them reach a specific goal that’s important to them that will help but only if they start to see results when or before they expect to see them.
An app which counts how many steps they take in their new sneakers and gives rewards around minimum numbers or walking in new locations etc is a nudge in the right direction, but it will only work for some people and likely only for a short period. Either boredom sets in or they miss a few days or they figure out a way to cheat the system or they decide the digital badges
Planet Kaha is the youth’s version of how the tasks are delivered.
Back when I was a kid at school…
…in the 70s and 80s, all our Physical Education classes from memory, were team based sports. While I loved the idea of being on a team, in theory, I felt too unco and unfit and thought I’d only let everyone down by not catching balls, falling over, swimming too slow. Accordingly, I squirmed out of more P.E. lessons than I ever attended.
One year they offered us the chance to do windsurfing for a term. Surely only one person can go on a board at a time? Surely it’s not a team sport?
It was the first sport I turned up to every lesson of. I was petrified of water having not gone to my swimming lessons. I could barely lift the sail, but no-one who was relying on me to master this. If I drowned, I drowned alone.
No doubt I picked it up slower than everyone else, in fact, it’s an exaggeration to say I even picked it up. Thankfully, it wasn’t an environment where anyone noticed other than our instructor. I was however fully absorbed and intensely focused on what I was doing. It proved to be an awesome learning environment but funnily enough not the windsurfing itself. While I’m yet to go back to it, it certainly helped to connect the dots on the types of activities I enjoyed.
Since then I’ve gone on to do a lot of long hikes, cycle touring, mountain biking and running. I took up dance, rock-climbing and weight training and wherever possible I’d do it solo.
Some 15 years after leaving school and becoming a Lawyer, I became a fitness trainer. I had found a love of movement and the idea of helping others conquer their barriers to exercise was massively appealing.
Jump to 2018
These days I’d happily jump in on any team doing anything. I love the learning curve of new movements and I love the social element. Doing ‘well’ at it is not my aim but if the team is fine with that, we’re good to go. Don’t get me wrong though. I totally respect and train people for whom doing well and indeed winning is very important and for whom mastering group dynamics and physical skills are essential.
What I believe now is that it’s important to provide a lot of solo options when it comes to activities. Equally importantly for more people to enjoy group activities we need to create and support different roles in those ‘group’ environments. Roles that allow everyone to feel empowered, useful, motivated, successful etc.
The skill and fascination for me now lays in providing those varied spaces.
The 20 Week Challenge
In setting set up my first big fitness Challenge I went to lengths to provide environments that encouraged participants to chase all sorts of varied health goals. They had options to get adventurous and competitive or not. To complete solo challenges or team challenges or both. Setting a cardiovascular goal was no better than setting a flexibility goal. What mattered was that the choice authentically aligned with what the participant wanted.
Providing those options was part one of a winning, but complex equation. It ran against the grain of most Challenges at the time which were/are weight loss focused or focused on doing 10,000 steps a day. It was a huge step forward to breathing life in to a philosophy designed to help more people enjoy exercising.
That Challenge ran 15 times and was hugely successful on a number of fronts similar to the one described.
It also provided a great base to build this latest programme. Upgraded, revamped and able to help more people at a lower price point. The move was a no-brainer, albeit one that saw me hide away in European winters and coastal towns of Australia to let my solo orientated mind build the framework.
Providing solo and group opportunities is just one piece of the jigsaw. There’s obviously so many more pieces in the picture of good health and while we’ve addressed quite a number of them, we’ve also set up a platform that can continue to include more. A platform that will be able to roll with changes in technology and learning environments. Nevertheless the core will remain the same. The simplistic desire to give even more people the opportunity to find their own space in which they can find the joy of movement and living a healthy lifestyle.