Hal Johnson, is a public speaker, fitness advocate and along with his wife Joanne is one half of the Bodybreak team. Most well known for their series of more than Three Hundred, 90 second vignettes which would air during commercial breaks, Bodybreak has grown to be more of a movement that encourages people to get out and be active in order to become healthier and happier. Hal and Joanne are still hard at work on Bodybreak and recently appeared on the 1st season of Amazing Race Canada.
What was the beginning of your love for Athletics?
I’ve always been active. I played baseball, football, basketball, and hockey constantly as a kid, and I really enjoyed doing that. I have a picture of myself at 2 years old with a baseball uniform on, so I started at an early age.
How did that lead to dedicating your life to athletics?
I went to the University of Colorado on a baseball scholarship, and played for team Canada. I traveled around the world playing for the national team. After realizing I couldn’t make it to the majors, since I was about a triple A player or so, I joined the working world. After 7 years, I decided that I missed sports, athleticism and being active. I also had been looking into getting into sports broadcasting and took a two week sports broadcasting course at Ryerson. Through happenstance, I met Joanne just after taking the course and on June 8th, 1988 I got the idea for Bodybreak. It just kind of hit me. I liked to do all sorts of activities from skiing to golfing. I just loved doing all kinds of different things. I Started thinking of combining my interest in sports broadcasting with my interest in athletics and being active. Within 3 months we produced a pilot and had a contract with Participaction to do a series of 6 episodes.
We did 65 episodes for Participaction, but overall we have done 300 but people often know us as the Participaction people.
What is going on with Bodybreak now?
We are going to be coming out with some new episodes very shortly, in January actualy. The medium has changed dramatically, thanks to the internet but whether you’re 20 or you’re 80 if you’re Canadian you know our brand because we had such high, high saturation and that’s what we hope to continue. We are going to come out with a new series next year on multiple platforms and we’re also going to be doing something with animating Bodybreak episodes to give it a different look and feel but obviously with the same music and the same tagline of, “Keep Fit and Have Fun.”
What kind of adversity have you had to overcome?
There are two elements that can make it difficult sometimes to stay active. First major one is injury and as you get older you are more susceptible to injury – your muscles aren’t as strong. But on the other hand, hopefully, you’re a little smarter. You don’t run up the hill that you aren’t ready for; maybe you just take a nice walk up that hill. So you understand your body a little bit better.
I don’t find motivation to be difficult, because I constantly undertake different things to challenge myself. For example I have a business partner who isn’t as active as he should be and we motivate each other through a bet to see who can do more steps. He hasn’t beaten me yet, but the motivation and the challenge is there.
I find little things to motivate me and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what it is. I hiked the Bruce Trail last weekend, and if you finished the Iroquois part of the trail you got what essentially amounted to a Boy Scout badge. I wanted the badge! I know it’s stupid, but the entire group wanted the badge. So if you can find little things like that to motivate you and you are having a good time doing it, you’re far more likely to be active. In the end, it wasn’t really about the badge; it was about pushing yourself and pushing your body to go further than you thought you could go.
For my 60th birthday back in June we went over to Ireland and we hiked 155 kilometers at 10 000 feet of elevation change in the middle of nowhere and that was to celebrate 60 years. I thought, well if I can’t do it now, when would I be able to?
What does a typical workout look like for you?
I back onto a trail that is 11km around, up and down hills. I hike that trail with my dog every day, wearing a 20 pound vest. That vest makes that 11 km a lot harder and really strengthens your core, your back and your quads. I play hockey 3 times a week and in the summer time I golf. Once the snow sets in, I’m on my treadmill or stepper, for about an hour a day. Bottom line in the winter I do a lot of treadmill work and play hockey.
What advice do you have for older people looking to be active and hoping to minimize injury?
Take it slow. I think that’s the biggest thing that you have to do. Listen to your body and be prepared. As an example, one of the 6 people who came on that Bruce trail hike is a marathoner and she assumed it would be nothing. She didn’t have the right shoes, and ended up hurting the back of her legs and she couldn’t finish. So for whatever activity you do, be prepared with your equipment, be prepared mentally – don’t go too far too fast – and then focus on your recovery. It’s a matter of taking care of your body and if you take care of your body it will take care of you.
What advice do you have in terms of nutrition?
From a fitness perspective – Over the years Joanne and I thought that nutrition and physical activity were 50/50 in terms of their importance to your body but recently we are thinking of it more as 70/30 in favour of nutrition. Nutrition plays a bigger role in your physical fitness and your health than anything. It is a major, major factor.
The biggest thing that we would say on nutrition is to avoid sugar at all cost. If you eat a lot sugar, it acts as an inflammatory to your joints, and as we age people will get arthritis and they will have swelling in their joints already and it will hurt. Eating less sugar can certainly help you in many ways. So nutrition is #1 and limit your sugar intake.
What is your #1 fitness tip?
The biggest thing is – find something you enjoy. If you enjoy whatever activity you are doing, you’re not going to think of it as work. It’s not going to be a work out; it’s going to be something you can’t wait to get to. When I play hockey, I don’t think, “I’m going to go skate now, and I’m going to burn 586 calories therefore I can eat this donut.” I’m going to play hockey because I like to play hockey. The same thing with hiking, we enjoy it.
Lorne’s Take – I grew watching Hal and Joanne so it was a real thrill to interview Hal. He makes a terrific point on the importance of nutrition when it comes to staying active and healthy. Furthermore, I echo his comments on being prepared before working out. Things like wearing the “proper shoes” can make a big difference especially for intense physical activity.