What does it mean to be true blue Aussie tradie?
To many, it’s become a caricature of a tough-as-nails bloke, scoffing down a Four’n’Twenty pie and wolf whistling ladies as they walk past the site. But beneath the loveable larrikin we joke about is a whole nation of hardworking tradespeople fighting against an pervasively unhealthy lifestyle.
Pies aside, the long hours of physically gruelling work, constant pressure of time-sensitive projects, and risk of serious injury make industries such as construction, plumbing, transport, and carpentry some of Australia’s most dangerous.
So in 2009, Canberra-based project manager Philippa ‘Pip’ Seldon decided to do something about it.
She wanted to remodel how Australia’s tradies looked after themselves from the inside, out. So, she founded ‘The Healthy Tradie Project’, an educational group that teaches tradesman about keeping their bodies and minds at optimal health. With a focus on holistic health, nutrition, mindfulness, and yoga, she created a workshop that tours work sites and gets even the toughest tradies to give downward dog a try.
“I launched The Healthy Tradie Project with the mission to help tradies live healthier, happier lives with three core ingredients: movement, mindfulness, and real whole foods,” says Pip.
Over her seven years working as a project manager in the construction industry, Pip Seldon saw how much pressure we put on our tradies, saying “They don’t really take great care of their health and wellbeing, they work hard, they’ve got a stressful job, it’s long hours, and it’s really tough physical work.” She recognised a gap in the industry, and set about finding a solution.
Sadly, it was a personal tragedy that also played a large role in the establishment of The Healthy Tradie Project. A few years ago, Seldon lost her older brother – a carpenter – to suicide.
“I lost my eldest brother, who was a carpenter, to suicide. I’ve seen the high rates of suicide within the industry, and I don’t think with mental health you can really separate it from physical health – they’re all connected.”
After the loss of her brother, Pip threw herself into the world of health studies including nutritional science, weight management, mindset and behaviour change, functional exercise programming and coaching, and yoga. It was then she realised the power of holistic health in creating a strong coping mechanism when suffering.
So, The Healthy Tradie Project was born.
A two-pronged business, The Healthy Tradie Project runs on-site workshops, and also offers a 12 or 21 day ‘Tradie Transformation’, which puts Pip’s teachings into practice. Think whole-food based meals, meditation, daily yoga, and getting out into the sunshine. For tradies who spent their days cooped up on site and scoffing down whatever food is close at hand, it’s a much-needed makeover.
So why do tradespeople neglect self-care more than other industries?
“The long hours and early starts mean that a lot of tradies don’t feel like they get the time to do things like exercise in the morning as other people can,” says Pip.
“It’s a stressful job, with the pressure running down from client, to builder, to contractor, to the tradie. And it’s also a male dominated industry – so typically, men will feel that they are the breadwinner for the family and need to work long hours.” Women, she points out, are generally better at raising the flag when they need time out.
Working herself in the role of a project manager, Pip is quick to point out the ongoing benefits of a happy and healthy tradie. “By taking time out for their own self care, they’re going to be more productive, healthier and happier so they can give more when they’re working.”
But putting the concept into practice surely must take some persuasion, right? It’s not an easy sight to conjure up – rooms full of tradies trying out yoga and meditation – but Pip assures us that once one person gives it a try, the others follow suit.
“Initially, they’re a little bit shy and standoffish,” she says, “but the moment that first person steps up and takes part, everyone follows. Halfway through the workshop, you see the smiles come on their faces and laughter and enjoyment.”
“And it actually ends being a kind of ‘good peer pressure’ that you don’t want to be the only guy standing there and not doing it!”
Looking forward, Pip has her sights set on bringing The Healthy Tradie Project workshops around Australia, spreading the good word of holistic health. She says her greatest goal is to shift mental health awareness from a reactive approach, to a proactive approach.
“I think we need a proactive approach to mental health,” she says, “giving the guys the fundamentals of nutrition, and exercise, and sleep, and mindset. If we address those areas then we’re giving the guys the tools to help themselves when things come up. They can make the change they need to.”
As they say, change must first start within yourself.
You can find out more about The Healthy Tradie Project on their website at: https://www.thehealthytradieproject.com/