RK Tip of the Week: Finland got it right & we can too

Posted on November 18, 2009


Finland is no longer fat. Whether you’re big or small, you need to care about this fact. Whether we’re saving your life or simply saving you money on healthcare premiums, it’s a really big deal that we care about Finland no longer being fat. 

Let me explain. It’s a really big deal because it means that someday, the US can enjoy not being fat too. Finland represents the light of possibility for what we can become IF we do a few simple things. Getting millions of people to do things, even if they are really simple things, has not always been easy – but that does not mean it’s impossible. I’m not going to get in trouble by comparing a country losing weight to ending slavery, but both required a movement in our culture’s attitude, a shift in our actions – I know that one is massively different from the other, but I’m just saying…history is riddled with movements that required millions upon millions of people to change the way they do things.  

So check out what Finland did & then consider how you play a role in the shift in our country. George Halvorson wrote an article detailing how “a decade ago the Finns were the country with the worst health in the western world, having the highest rate of heart disease mortality rate & having a majority who were overweight. They faced this problem as a country, & created a national ‘culture of health,’ by getting people revved & going on better eating, better food, more physical activity & a general understanding at every level of community – from high-level government to local city groups – that health should be a goal & a value.” 

Guess what happened? A decade later the Finns are 20% below the European averages for both obesity & heart disease. In only 10 years! While as a fitness pro, I would love to see this kind of reversal happen as quick as possible in the US- just like losing weight as fast as possible is not the way you’re going to keep it off- getting an entire country turned around on their ideas & values of health & fitness isn’t going to stick if we do the 3-day fat flush of our McDonalds’ & sedentary lifestyles. 

I’m going to hedge a bet that when the Finns got fit, other things in their life got better too. They probably started having more productive days because they had more energy, they probably started having better relationships because they weren’t cranky about their aches & pains since those were lessened as they got healthy & fit. They probably also started having better sex since their body image improved & they were more confident. Can anyone tell me why Americans wouldn’t want to have more productive, more friend-filled, more sex-filled lives? Anyone? Anyone at all? 

We have a huge opportunity in front us by having the Obamas’ in the White House. Don’t freak out if you’re a Republican, we’re not focusing on political strategy here. We have a huge opportunity because we have a President who really cherishes fitness, a First Lady who is making one of her major causes national health & fitness (she outlines her plans to improve children’s health in her interview in the Dec. issue of Glamour) & for the first time since Eleanor Roosevelt, a garden at the White House that has created more casual conversation than any other “health” movement at the White House. I don’t care which party you claim yourself a part of – this has the potential to change the course our country is on for the better.

What should you do?

1. Stop poo-pooing every health, fitness & wellness person who talks about eating locally, cooking your own food vs. eating out of a box or restaurant, or making exercise part of your life until the day you die.

*First off, it’s annoying to everyone who actually knows something about the way the body works & how it should be fed to listen to people muddy the waters with “I’ve made it this far, so why should I change now.” Others hear this & don’t know whether to believe the anecdotal albeit uneducated comments like these or the words from a professional who lives it, knows it, and wants to share it with you.

2. Engage in positivity for yourself & those around you – that includes the cube-mate at work who you share crash-diet tips with, the spouse who you got fat together with, the kids who you may be setting the wrong example for, the friends who you “share” your dessert with.

*You owe society. A basic human tenet has always been to “be” somebody. It is well-studied that humans want to “be” something or someone, and that knowing they “are” something, can make all the difference. Choose to use healthy habits to “be” somebody of positive value that brings up society, rather than someone who is playing with the band as we sink to the bottom of the ocean. See #1: Negative Nancy’s only slow our progress toward being a nation of healthy, happy, sex-filled people. So get on the bus or get out of the way.

3. Leave this place better than you found it. Make Al Gore happy & “green” your space, but do me & other health pros a favor & get on board with “greening” yourself. Future generations will thank you – and if you don’t care about future generations – then please do the rest of us a favor & sit quietly in the corner while the rest of us take on this call to action.

*Be the example, as good as you can be, to someone who needs you. You don’t have to be Bob & Jillian to leave the next generation something good, but helping your kids learn that McDonalds’ is not a food group is a really good place to start. What if our Early Man ancestors said, “the hell with this whole walking thing- it takes a lot of work.” Right now, you’d be a monkey sitting around with other monkeys guarding your bananas. It only takes 1 generation to change a blood line. Start leaving something good by helping others be healthier.

*Plan a family exercise night & get a dvd or work with a coach to learn a program you can do at home. *Set up healthy office standards that everyone believes in – instead of holiday candy/cookies this year, bring in a fruit basket (I enjoy Harry & David’s selections as they arrive fresh & are more of a “treat” than just buying some pears & apples at the store). *Rather than an office party or friends holiday cocktail party, bring in a trainer to create a fun workout day for the group.

Finland started their shift by setting up goals & values that everyone could believe in – and it started with believing that a group DOES have the power to change. From there, it takes many different groups to make it happen. Parents, you have a role. Office groups, you have a role. Government officials have a huge role. And you- you have the most important role of all…holding yourself to those healthy values & beliefs. I’ll do my part, you do yours & I’ll see your healthy, friend-filled, sex-filled self in 10 years!