First of all, apologies. This is a biggie. If you have a spare ten minutes, read on and tell me what you think at the end.
With all this talk recently about designing a c25k poster, it’s got me thinking about raising awareness of this programme, and how it could be best targeted. I do applaud the push to get C25K more widely advertised, but I think that we should manage our expectations as to what such a poster campaign could realistically achieve. If we are going to do this, just creating a poster to put up in doctor’s surgeries is like putting a sticky plaster on a broken leg.
People who want to lose weight and get fitter will do so. They will find ways of doing it, whether it be C25K, weight loss groups or just getting out for a brisk walk every day. I don't think the train of thought about improving your lifestyle starts with seeing a poster. If you are healthy minded, you will see a C25K poster and it may inspire you to make the leap from being an active walker or swimmer. But arguably, this is preaching to the converted. I honestly don't believe that seeing a C25K poster will make you drop your fish supper and suddenly change your ways. I know from my days of having less desirable lifestyle habits that if I ever saw a poster advocating some healthy eating or living programme, I scoffed at it. My doctor told me time and time again that I needed to lose weight and stop smoking, but I never listened, even though I knew it was causing problems to my health. And I know that some of my more slovenly friends actively resist the efforts of the 'do-gooders' who absolutely must convince them that their way of life is so much healthier and therefore better. One must tread carefully when trying to convince someone to change their ways for the sake of their health. It can very easily lead to a 'cut your nose off to spite your face' situation.
I don’t think that aiming the focus of an awareness campaign at the doctor’s surgery is a productive use of time or resources. This is possibly a little too late, flying in the face of the ‘prevention is better than cure’ message which is core to the healthy living philosophy. Those who have health problems grave enough to be receiving advice from their doctor may well not be in a great position to start a running programme. My own doctor’s advice when it came to light that I had high blood pressure was that I had to lose about 3 stone before I could even consider taking up any active, weight bearing exercise, as the strain of hauling round so much extra weight during cardio exercise could have a detrimental effect on my joints, as well as my heart.
So back to the ‘prevention is better than cure’ message. Surely the place we want to be pushing the message is in schools, where kid’s activity habits are still being formed? My experience of P.E. in school was that it was aimed at the kids who were naturally fit, and those of us who weren’t so able, struggled and were ridiculed. It put me off physical activity for many years. There was no acknowledgement that many kids are actually unable to run more than 100m. There was no plan to gently bring them up to the level of activity they should reasonably be able to achieve, at a pace they were comfortable with (see where I’m going here?). I believe that an integration of some kind of c25k plan into the P.E. curriculum for those who need it would be a good plan to tackle the long term outlook. Give those kids the skills they need to be able to be active, without making them feel inadequate, just because they aren’t as naturally fit as their peers.
So that’s long term, what about short term? There are still many people who need to be reached who have already formed bad activity habits. As I said before, there is no way that just looking at a poster is going to convince these people that they need to change their ways. I think the secret of marketing c25K to adults is in word of mouth. I don't think an A4 poster will inspire a couch potato in anywhere near the same way as watching a friend or colleague becoming fitter, healthier, and achieving a healthy figure. Especially if that is someone who was previously as much of a couch potato as you!! That’s how I got involved.
So what can we do? It’s always going to be easier to teach our own kids good habits. Spend time with them being active. Make sure they can round around when they are playing and not get out of breath. Instill healthy levels of activity in them from a young age. As far as getting the message into schools, write your MP or education minister. Ask them to clarify what is being done in schools to ensure that children with lesser fitness ability are not being left behind. Suggest this programme as a tool to improve their fitness. Don’t forget, these people work for us, and if there is something that we feel needs to be listened to, they are duty bound to listen. It may take a bit of banging on the door, but if that’s what is needed then so be it. And don’t forget to keep telling your friends and colleagues about how great the programme is.
That’s my thoughts. I don’t want to pour cold water on any efforts to raise the profile of this wonderful plan. The main message I want people (if you are still reading this) to go away with is that posters in isolation will do very little. Even doctors recommending it to obese patients is too little, too late. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it properly!