Do you remember your high school gym teacher? That guy who made you run endless laps when you were tired, hungry and trying not to get too sweaty in front of a cute boy? I do. Because he's on TV once a week. That's right—Gerry Dee was my high school gym teacher. And who better than a gym teacher, the pinnacle of fitness in our younger days, to share his fitness and health advice with you all. Plus, he's pretty entertaining.
Canadian Living: Gerry, you were a high school gym teacher for years before going into comedy. What lessons did the kids teach you about fitness? Gerry D: "Sometimes they taught me I was in really good shape, and sometimes they taught me I wasn't. There was a big variance in the fitness level of kids which really is a problem in the physical education world. There were times I was extremely impressed by how many sit ups a kid could do or how fast a kid could run. I also realized as I got older that they appeared to get fitter as I became less fit. I remember doing hurdles once and the next year I tried it and nearly killed myself trying to demonstrate. Needless to say I dropped hurdles from the fitness unit." CL: What kind of workouts do you think the kids responded to the best? GD: "I don't think they responded to any. Kids wants to play games, they want to do activities. My view and approach to teaching phys ed was to try and have them work out without knowing it. Create some activity that was physically demanding, both muscular and cardiovascular and they'd leave the class having done some physical activity. Like so many people who run on treadmills and do weights and find it boring, with kids that is heightened even more with how boring they find it. They generally like things in competition situations, they like numbers, etc. If a kid wasn't in shape there was nothing they liked to do. It was sometimes embarrassing for kids to run a mile, do a sit up test or compete in a gym class if they didn't feel comfortable with their bodies and their physical abilities. That's something that physical educators are trying to change. I remember my philosophy in phys ed was, I didn't care if they learned how to play a sport, I just wanted them to play it and sweat. At the end of class I just wanted everyone sweating. That's what I felt and feel is the role of a physical educator. As opposed to teaching them badminton, the rules of the game, or how to do a throw in for soccer, I'd rather them just be running around." CL: How do you encourage kids to get active who weren't into sports? GD: "I would try to spend some time with them. For kids who couldn't run a mile, I would try to run with them and encourage them. As much as I am a comedian and always looking for the humorous approach to things, that was not something that I would make fun of. I would really try to work with those kids who came into the program or class completely out of shape. It was about taking baby steps. If a kid couldn't run a mile I'd maybe get him to walk a mile, then walk a fast mile, then jog a mile, then a light run and so on. It was a matter of progressing with them and really encouraging them and teaching them when we would have health units the importance of physical activity, getting the heart rate up, and the physiological things that exercise responds to. All the while, being mindful to not focus too much on body image and looking good, but rather stress the importance of feeling better and looking in the mirror and being happy with themselves because there are genetic pre-dispositions that affect weight, body size and shape." CL: How do you encourage your wife and kids to get active? GD: "Well that's one thing you learn as a husband, don't encourage your wife to get active. There is absolutely nothing to win there because it's a round about way of you saying 'you're out of shape or gaining weight or something.' I don't really need to encourage my wife. Like me, she feels better when she's in shape and so she encourages herself. We try to do some of it together and we'll get a heart rate monitor band and we'll have competitions like how many steps we did that day. As for the kids, my daughters are six and four and we tried having a chart in the kitchen and they got check marks. My son is one, so we didn't do it for him. I try to bring my girls down to the basement and do some exercises, get their heart rate up. As a former phys ed teacher I ask myself at the end of every day or every week, did my kids get enough exercise? If there were a couple of slow days, I consciously will make sure they get some cardio and some activity. This is something I think is very important. Diet is also key although I don't think most of the members in our household have a good diet, and I'm probably the worst. We all like our sweets and our treats and the kids their chicken fingers and fries. I'm constantly watching that they're doing stuff that keeps them active, but I never discuss their weight. It's not something I feel needs to be discussed. We all encourage ourselves and remind each other. My wife and I will often say 'we should probably start running again' or 'we should probably start working out.' I never single it to her or to me." You can watch Gerry re-live my high school experience on Monday nights on the CBC at 9pm or watch him on an upcoming Gerry's Comedy Tour.