Paddy Heaney: powers that be using completely wrong approach... they need to take steps in right direction

Paddy Heaney
Paddy Heaney

I'm in a WhatsApp Group with two men who are regulars in the gym.

I christened it: The Complaints Dept. Why? Because all they ever do is whine and moan.

That said, they’ve been coming to the gym since it opened and I miss them dearly.

With the gym shut, we now communicate via WhatsApp.

Last week, one of them posted a joke. It was: “You think you can hurt my feelings? I used to hold the flashlight for my da.”

If you get that joke, you get it.

If you don’t, my guess is you’re under 30 years of age and you never spent much time holding a sack open for your da.

They don’t make daddies the same any more.

The modern day ‘dad’ doesn’t believe he has a moral obligation to work his children, and work them hard.

Mothers are different too.

One of the men in the aforementioned WhatsApp Group tells a good yarn about his mother.

As a boy if he went crying to her about some minor injury or complaint, she’d say to him: “You know what you should take for that?”

Without fail, he’d say: ‘what?’

And without fail, she’d reply: “a teaspoon of cement. It’ll harden you up a bit.”

They were good times.

Unlike us, the last generation were tough cookies.

After a long bike ride, and an equally long café stop, a friend of mine made an observation as we left for home.

“We are lucky,’’ he said.

“We can go back now and lie on our backsides on the sofa and not feel even slightly guilty about it. My da couldn’t do that.

''If he had nothing to do, he would find something to do. He'd be picking up stones and he’d have us picking up stones with him.”

I knew exactly what he was saying.

Consider the work ethic of that previous generation. I only have to think of my friends’ fathers.

One worked as a digger driver during the day, came home, ate, then went to work on the farm.

Another man who was a builder did exactly the same.

After a day on the site, the evening was spent on the farm in Glenullin.

Another laid tar on flat roofs.

I laboured for him a few times. Give me a hard weights session any time.

The recurring theme was these men were all doing manual work and they were constantly on the move.

Fast forward a few decades and everything has changed beyond recognition.

People no longer move. They sit.

They sit in cars and they sit at desks.

Even jobs requiring labour are not the same.

Joiners use power-saws and electric screwdrivers. There is an electric tool for everything.

Even the tradesmen are getting fat.

We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic that is threatening to cripple the health service.

Yet, all the public health experts have been warning for years that if our sedentary lifestyles are allowed to continue the NHS will be unable to cope.

The Guardian’s political correspondent, Peter Walker has written a book, The Miracle Pill: Why a sedentary world is getting it all wrong.

Published last week, ‘The Miracle Pill’ outlines the pandemic which awaits us if we continue to spend our evenings on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp!

Walker writes: “With countless millions of people living for many more decades with a series of chronic, debilitating conditions, most experts agree that, if left unchecked, inactivity is on course to make health services fundamentally unviable.”

Walker also makes a great point which is absolutely true.

He notes that in an effort to remedy this “normalised catastrophe” the government has tried to encourage people to take part in sport.

Not only has this policy been utterly ineffective (more than half the adult population never take part in any sport, ever), it is also missing the point.

I have started an online Lockdown Shred.

As the name suggests, the emphasis is on weight loss.

The programme consists of three workouts per week, sticking to a specific calorie intake, and walking 10,000 steps per day.

It would blow your mind how many people believe that the three workouts are the most important factor to their weight loss.

It’s exactly the opposite to what they believe.

Weight loss is governed by what you eat, and how much you move.

The daily 10,000 steps are far more important than the workout sessions.

That’s why governments and local councils are getting it completely wrong.

Instead of pouring money into leisure centres that the vast majority of people don’t use, they should be investing millions into street lit walking routes, cycle paths and forest trails.

In Maghera, the town’s most popular walking route doesn’t even have street lights.

Mothers with prams, and elderly people walk along a road in pitch darkness. It’s only recently that the route was fully paved.

As is so often the case, the GAA has stepped into a role that should be served by local government.

In many areas, the local pitch has become the community’s walking route.

But that shouldn’t be the case. We should expect more and demand more.

We need more cycle paths and safer walking routes.

We need to move more.

Our very lives depend on it.