A Health Perspective: Moving More Towards Natural Living by Brian Gadient, PE teacher (Canada)
We’ve all seen the studies on the negative effects of excess screen time, loading up on high-sugar foods, or high-fat diets, the immorality in
media and advertising, the overall increasing laziness as machines do our work for us, how chemicals/sprays are poisoning our environments, the increasing household stress levels, etc, etc. Although the realization of the harm embedded within these things has become common sense, it’s still a constant struggle to get away from it all because sadly there’s an addictiveness and a lifestyle that is hard to escape. We know it, see it, and experience it. We recognize that today’s generation will prefer to play or watch their
devices, rather than play or explore outside. We see lunches comprised of burgers and fries instead of apples and avocados. And we don’t always make the healthiest decisions in general (myself included – I’m definitely not here to point fingers because I’m far from perfect). Even when we would like to try to improve our health, it’s incredibly difficult as all angles seem to be working against us. However I think it’s important to try to improve in some way, even if it’s just small things here and there.
The following write-up details some of the steps I’ve personally begun to take in the past few years to get more into “real life” or “real living” -- a simpler and healthier lifestyle. Disclaimer: the things I’ll be describing does take some time and some work, but that’s part of the deal. What I can say with certainty is that it has been rewarding in so many different ways, but I’m also realizing how little I know and how much more there is to learn when it comes to learning/using the land and species around us. Some might call it homesteading, others say living off the land. I just call it living without all the extra stress and mess of modern life. I’m a beginner and not yet close to where I’d like to be with all this, but I’ve been blessed with a loving wife and children who we would like to raise strong and as clean as possible from all the junk that’s around. It’s one step at a time, and in reflecting as a physical educator, many connections are made to nutrition, growth, cycles, work ethic, nature, exercise, stress management, and more. If you’re a PE teacher, you already do your best to pass on knowledge and wisdom to your students (and good on you for doing that – I’m always amazed at how skilled different teachers are in their own specialties and interest areas). I realize as I get older, and hopefully wiser, I need to do a better job modeling healthy living habits.
**Before I get on with the info, please note that I do have a small acreage which allows me to more easily pursue some of this stuff, but for the majority who live in cities or apartments/condos, some of the following ideas are still possible if you’re interested in trying something new (might need some out-of-the-box thinking, but PE people are good with adaptations). Anyways, that’s enough of my rambling, here goes:
Gardening: Gardening is one of the most popular outdoor hobbies towards health, but my wife and I want to eventually change it from just a hobby to a way of life. We’re currently growing a variety of vegetables and herbs, in what is right now a 24’x24’ garden area. The plan is to expand the area next year as well as add a greenhouse. She is the expert here; my job is watering, tilling, and sometimes weeding. For those with no yard space: try herbs, flowers, or small plants in pots indoors. Look for plants with medicinal properties (an obvious example is aloe which is an easy one that many people have already). Winter where I live equals no outdoor garden, unfortunately as everything is buried under three feet of snow. Another tip: some weeds (ex. Dandelions) are actually good for you. Do a bit of research and you’ll find that there are actually quite a few beneficial weeds!
Chickens: Our chickens are for eggs and meat. Also, the kids like to feed and try to pet them (sometimes successful). We’ve got some large birds, some small bantams, a variety of baby chicks, and they’re all lots of fun. It’s nice to wake up to the roosters crowing…depending on the morning. We have the birds fenced in around a huge area with a pond in the middle so they’re semi-free-range. They’ve got an insulated chicken coop they can go into at night (one-third of our old garage converted). For those with a small yard: look into your area laws about backyard chickens. If allowed, there are nice backyard coops that can be built/bought to house a few hens and get some tasty fresh eggs. For those with no yard…well…you can search out a rural farmer who’s selling actual farm fresh meat or eggs for a few bucks a dozen. There really is a difference from your store-bought eggs, even if they say “farm fresh organic” on the package.
Bees: There’s only a few things needed to start beekeeping, and there’s tonnes of information out there if you’re interested. I like honey on toast, and in my coffee instead of sugar. Actually, we sweeten almost everything with honey – it’s awesome, has many health benefits, and we go through it like crazy. Having anywhere from one to three families of bees at a time is manageable, but more than that starts to get tricky without having lots of time (because you know how much extra time teachers have). But just one hive can give you quite a few liters of honey. So I HIGHLY recommend getting into beekeeping if you have even the slightest interest. Just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you have no chance, look into something called “rooftop beekeeping”. A good starting point no matter where you live could be to ask a beekeeper to introduce you to beekeeping, and you could learn from them, see if you like it, and help them out once in awhile in return. Bonus: lifting a box of frames full of honey is HEAVY work and good for the heart and muscles.
Fishing: I love it, whether it’s angling off the old boat, from the shore, dip-netting when allowed, but ICE FISHING is my favourite. There’s nothing quite like fresh fried fish no matter where or how it’s caught. And as you know fish is incredibly good for us. My oldest boy has caught some decent walleye with his Mickey Mouse rod, some of life’s memorable moments…you don’t always need expensive gear to be successful. Regardless of where you live, there will always be great varieties of fish to be found
Berries: We’re huge fans of growing berries - strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, honeyberries/hascap, some berries I don’t know the names of, and I’m fortunate to have lots of wild Saskatoon berries (think that’s mostly a Canadian berry) on my property. This year the mosquitoes aren’t too bad, so it’s even more enjoyable to pick berries. Tip: watch out for poison ivy/oak/sumac or other unfriendly plants or berries when picking in the wild. Another tip: drive out to a rural area “U-pick” farm with some family or friends and load up a few buckets of berries – guaranteed to taste better than from the grocery store, plus the added bonus of quality time spent together. Freeze a bucket, or make some jams with the extras.
Other Animals: Right now we have bunnies, ducks, and for the first time - geese eggs are sitting in the incubator, hopefully hatching soon. Add in the cats, dogs, and fish, and it’s quite the little farm going on over here. We hope to get something new next year too, thinking of goats for milk. But it’s one step at a time…words for all areas of life. It is true though that animals and pets add to the quality of life.
Wood for Heat: We really enjoy a nice hot fire in the wood burning stove through the cold winter here up north. Poplar and pine is a good mix for us – the most common trees found around my area (of course, your area will be different). I enjoy the added exercise of using the axe to split the wood. Three to four cords per winter is about normal for where we live. Will wait for fall to find the dead-fall and bring it out to cut. Again: poison ivy is unfriendly, as well as wasp nests, skunks, and other rodents. Also, boil water in a pot or kettle on top of the wood stove and make a hot cup of tea. For those who live in hot climates like in southern states or near the equator, the above information is completely useless, sorry. But you could use wood to build something nice I guess, or bench press a tree log.
Hunting: Meat from wild game might just be the most pure and natural stuff around. The animals haven’t been fed some unknown substances or pumped with growth hormone. To me, it’s one of the highest quality food sources available, and I’m incredibly thankful for it. I don’t need the big set of antlers on my wall, but I enjoy a freezer full of real food for winter. It’s always important to follow your area wildlife management guides and hunting ethics. Respect the animal, and always be thankful.
A little while ago Pete was interested in hearing about a passion of mine, so hopefully in sharing this, you as the reader have found something useful for your own health or struck some chord or imagination towards natural living ideas, the range of which is huge. And for those of you who are aware of my work in online Physical Education, you may realize that I’ve spent hours in front of my computer screen creating game video tutorials for physed teachers.
Although I don’t think creating new game videos will completely stop, updates will be fewer and further between as I’m trying to spend less time on the computer and more time with this other stuff. That’s just a personal choice - I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the computer for good things.
In closing, it may be difficult to even imagine trying out some of this stuff with the million other things that life is full of (especially if you’re a PE teacher, you’re probably thinking how could you manage this type of thing amidst your coaching, refereeing, planning, teaching, involvements, etc). I’m not saying you should want or need to do any of it either – healthy living takes on many different forms and is different for everyone. This was just my take on a type of pursuit towards healthier living that I wanted to share, so in the least I hope it was interesting. If anything though, we should all try to spend as much time as possible outside doing something or playing something, with family, friends, and children. And good job if you’re already doing that!
Brian Gadient is a physical education teacher at Arborgate School in Manitoba, Canada and is the creator of www.physedgames.com”.