Your gym teacher's 'stay active' message is worth taking to heart — even a few decades after the fact

Jo Davies didn't heed her Grade 5 gym teacher's warning to stay active. But now, closing in on 50, she says she's reconnecting with the inner child who thought she’d always be able to skip rope and roller skate and at least attempt cartwheels.

Nearing 50, Jo Davies says she's reconnecting with the inner child who thought she'd always skate, skip rope

If you look hard enough, you can find that inner child who loved to play and be active, says Jo Davies. (Shutterstock /

As a person of a certain age, I've noticed that I spend a fair amount of time reminiscing about my past, thinking back on what I could have done better or differently.

For the most part, I accept the decisions I've made and try to get on with it. After all, hindsight is 20/20.

However, there's one piece of advice that I really do kick myself for not listening to and acting on. That little bit of wisdom came from my gym teacher, Mr. Murray, back in the days when Canada's biggest musical export was Anne Murray and Justin's dad was the only "Prime Minister Trudeau" on the books.

A somewhat frazzled Mr. M. informed all of us Grade 5 hooligans that we were the fittest we'd ever be in our lifetimes. He quoted some study that said unless we made a conscious effort to be active as we aged, we would end up overweight and unhealthy, doomed to diabetes, high blood pressure and demoralizing bouts of swimsuit shopping. (OK, I made that last one up.)

Children take part in a dance class in Toronto in this file photo from February 2012. Jo Davies, who grew up in the era of ParticipAction, says as a child, she never imagined she'd stop being active. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

For some reason, I remember that moment particularly clearly. I looked around at my classmates and thought "Us? Are you kidding? We'll never be fat and out of shape!" Such is the hubris of the preteen psyche.

To be fair, I was thinking like a kid who'd been raised in the era of ParticipAction, that bit of governmental motivation that tried to get Canadians to exercise more, starting in the early '70s.

We were regularly tested in school for physical fitness via timed sit-ups, push-ups, chin-ups, running and the practically impossible curled arm hang. We were offered gold, silver and bronze "medals" in the form of fabric patches to sew on our jackets or jeans.

The kids who were good at physical fitness cleaned up with gold patches year after year, while others like yours truly who were a tad less adept ended up with tiny red and white lapel pins, thanking us for participating. Yay us.

From the CBC Archives — Mandatory fitness in Manitoba in 1978:

Canada's fitness movement: Mandatory fitness in Manitoba

44 years ago
Duration 1:20
A Manitoba high school makes daily exercise compulsory.

The bottom line, though, was that there were standards to shoot for, whether or not you achieved them. Even those of us who were the pits at push-ups and chin-ups were still very active.

There was never a day in the year when I wasn't outside at some point, running, climbing, jumping, or riding a bike or a toboggan, depending on the weather.

Our parents didn't accept us sitting inside for any length of time for any reason except for near-death experiences or watching Walt Disney on Sundays after supper. "Get outside and get some fresh air," was what you usually heard.

That's why I didn't take Mr. Murray's warning seriously. I couldn't foresee a time in my life when I wouldn't have the energy or the inclination to see how much my body could do.

Opting out of activity

I had zero clue at the age of 11 that there would come a time when it took all I had to drag myself home from work, make dinner and collapse on the couch while my kids played video games. That I would lose the joy of exploring in favour of finding the least taxing way to accomplish something.

Somewhere along the way, conserving my body's dwindling supply of energy became far more crucial than expending it — no matter that it would have been the healthier choice.

Now here I sit with my 50th birthday zooming up faster than Neymar fakes injuries and I'm more than a little bummed out by what I see in the mirror. It's not the lines and wrinkles and scars I worry about so much as the fear. In short: I'm afraid of my own body.

Instead of trying new things with it, I'd opted out. I'd let worry over my sore knees and my bad hip and my aching back corral me into thinking that I can't do what I used to do. That, to me, is a crying shame, mainly because it's just not true.

I had to ask myself, "Where did that sassy young dipstick go to?" The one convinced she'd always be able to skip rope and roller skate and at least attempt cartwheels? The one who didn't mind getting sweaty and red in the face if it meant she was having fun?

A file photo of a July 9, 2013, outdoor yoga class. 'It might have taken three decades or so, but I finally got the message,' about staying active, says Jo Davies. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)

Turns out, she was here all along. I found her last February at an aqua fitness class, puffing away in the deep end of the pool, having a fabulous time.

Yes, she's looking a little more like her mom and a lot less like that Grade 5 girl, but she's still there.

Now she swims, lifts weights, rides the stationary bike and isn't afraid to grunt and sweat while squeezing out that last set of crunches.

They say that bravery isn't the absence of fear — it's being afraid and trying anyway.

So thanks, Mr. Murray. It might have taken three decades or so, but I finally got the message.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Jo Davies is a freelance writer and office assistant who is never at a loss for an opinion. She is currently writing her first novel, set in Jamaica.


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