A few years back, I was at a family celebration when a profound thought struck me. I’m sure you've been struck by similar thoughts at similar celebrations because they often appear just after your second red wine.
I looked around at what was a typical family BBQ and saw my Dad, who had just celebrated his 80th birthday, smile and shuffle past with his new walking frame. The frame has wheels and a little built-in seat. Although my Dad could still walk, he was becoming increasingly frail after a couple of heart operations and it wasn’t safe for him to be out walking without the support that the frame gave him. For years he’d enjoyed walking around his neighbourhood and he loved starting his day by wandering down to his local café by the beach to sip on an oversized cappuccino. He bought the newspaper and joked about how he likes to start by reading the newspaper’s death notice because he reckons if his name isn’t in there then he is in for a pretty good day. He rarely got too far into his paper because he’d always be talking to people going by. Sometimes when I visited my parents, I’d head down there with him for a father-son catch up, except we didn’t really catch up, because of constant interruptions by pretty much everyone that lives in his neighbourhood.
My Mum bought the new walking frame a couple of months prior and it was in this moment at our family BBQ, as I watched him shuffle past, that I realised my father was in the sunset of his life, and the thing that he was most desperate to hang onto was his daily walk. He’d had to give up his driver’s licence the previous year and over the years he’d undoubtedly had to let go of other things that most of us take for granted, but none of them was this obvious. Here he was, walking past with his frame in what was really a determined last stand against having to give something up. I suddenly grasped why it’s so important to him. The day he can’t walk is the day his world really closes down. He couldn’t leave the house anymore under his own steam. He couldn’t socialise the way he had for most of his life. He couldn’t wander out and smell the garden or pick a flower for my Mum. He couldn’t stroll down and buy the newspaper and tell a joke to the newsagent. Maybe he could’ve done some of these things, but not on his own. Once he loses walking, then he loses a whole bunch of things, including his independence.
As I contemplated this, I looked around the backyard and saw my youngest child playing with his older siblings. Little Oscar was only 15 months old that day and he’d been crawling quickly and everywhere for a few months, but now he was so obviously desperate to walk. You could see it in his face. He was just so determined to take his first steps. He wanted to stand up and walk around just like everyone else. He didn’t know this yet, but once Oscar starts to walk, the world will open up to him. He’ll be able to kick a ball with his brother or chase his older sister around. Before long he’ll be able to run and play with kids of any age. In fact, over the course of his life, walking will open all sorts of doors for him and take him all kinds of places. He’ll walk to and from school. He’ll walk in and out of all kinds of life’s most momentous occasions. Someday he’ll walk up to a pretty girl and ask her to dance. He’ll walk to clear his head and collect his thoughts. He’ll have some of his brightest ideas whilst out walking. He’ll walk to keep his body moving and maintain a healthy weight. He’ll walk along beaches and up and down mountains and across rivers and through forests. He’ll discover cities and towns and stairs and doorways and people and lives, and even things about himself that he’d never have discovered otherwise.
Which brings me to what we are doing at HeadUp Labs. There is a big chunk of the population that has sat down and neglected the very thing that my father and my son were so desperately trying to do. To walk, wander, trek, ramble, stroll, saunter, strut, promenade, hike, tramp perambulate. The developed world is literally not moving enough and the consequences of this are really serious. This lack of movement is the single biggest avoidable driver of the epidemic of modern disease that is adversely affecting people’s health and shortening their lives around the world.
HeadUp Labs is developing a platform that takes the body of scientific evidence and overlays it with your own personal data to help you identify precisely what you need to do more of in order to achieve the biggest impact on your health. Based on the scientific data that currently exists, most people simply aren’t moving anywhere near as much as they need to in order to be healthy. The average person living in an OECD country today is taking around 3,000 steps per day. That’s equivalent to being active for around 24 minutes in each 24 hour period. Or looked at another way, it’s the equivalent of being sedentary (sitting, lying, lounging) for 23 hours and 36 minutes each day. Our bodies weren’t engineered to operate like this. It’s simply not sustainable and in the context of staying healthy, happy and alive, its downright dangerous. So HeadUp will help you identify how sedentary you are and give you the monitoring and guidance and motivation you need to make small changes to your day in order to affect the biggest change.
This might not sound like earth shattering stuff, because my 2 year old son and 80 year old Dad seemed to be focused on precisely the right thing, but most people are forgetting to move and that’s why it’s now the single biggest contributor to the skyrocketing rates of modern and avoidable diseases (heart disease, type II diabetes, many cancers). Our mission is to give you the information, the tools and the motivation you need to get yourself on the path to good health…and stay there. Sometimes this is about finding new areas to focus on, but sometimes - as is the case with walking more – it’s about reminding you of what’s really important.
Until HeadUp launches and you have access to personalised, sophisticated, quantified, scientific guidance… here’s a general tip, be like my son and my Dad, move more, every chance you get.
Whatever you may be celebrating around this time of year we wish you a safe, happy and healthy 2018.