I'm uneasy about the Get Active Victoria campaign – aren’t we trying hard enough already? | Philippa Chandler

Get Active Victoria is a new campaign from the Victorian state government to encourage Victorians to “move more every day”. The website features calm and delighted-looking people exercising in homes that are suspiciously free of empty wine bottles and piles of unfolded laundry.

The Get Active Victoria campaign feels personal. As someone struggling to get exercise during Melbourne’s stage 4 restrictions, I’m their target audience. I feel like Daniel Andrews is peering through my curtains and is deeply disappointed by what he is seeing.

Or perhaps that’s the wrong metaphor. I feel like a hamster and Get Active Victoria is a wheel being lowered into my cage. Except it isn’t a wheel, it is a website that “inspires” me to imagine there is a wheel.

Jumping around the lounge room is not a bad idea. Exercise is proven to improve mental health, which is desperately important right now. The campaign promotes exercises that are free and can be undertaken by a range of ages and abilities. As dubious wellness gurus seek to monetise Covid and conspiracy theorists spread misinformation, it makes sense for the government to provide simple and sensible exercise guidance.

Before Covid I used to swim once a week and cycle to work twice a week which added around three hours of high-intensity exercise to my week. With a desk-based job and two children, exercise had to be squeezed into a busy schedule.

In March, gyms and indoor sporting venues closed. Suddenly my children were underfoot and asking for snacks every minute of the day. My partner and I started working from home and arranged an elaborate shift system whereby one parent works while the other parent takes care of the kids. Without the ride to work or the possibility of swimming, getting exercise became a logistical challenge.

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We took a lot of family bike rides, and I experimented with short neighbourhood jogs. I walked with female friends and developed a habit of taking late-night walks once the kids were asleep.

However, the current stage 4 restrictions have posed new challenges, with exercise limited to an hour. The 8pm curfew means the late-night walks are no longer an option.

I had some routine blood tests last week that indicated my cholesterol is elevated and my vitamin D levels are lower than ideal. In discussing this with my GP, we wondered if there’s a link between these test results and the exercise I’m missing out on. If that’s true, I’m not alone – other commentators have noticed their bodies change during lockdown and statistics have shown that Australians are drinking more alcohol.

So why do I feel uneasy about the campaign? Perhaps because it offers “online challenges” at a time when my life already feels like one big online challenge. And perhaps because bunny-hopping around the patio feels futile in the face of such widespread social upheaval.

The campaign’s press release says that 80% of children and more than 50% of adults in Victoria are not getting enough physical activity. This makes me feel a little defensive of my fellow Victorians – aren’t we trying hard enough already?

I will try to overcome my reservations. If you will excuse me, I’m heading off for my capoeira class. In the kitchen.

• Philippa Chandler is a freelance journalist and academic who lives in Melbourne


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