It comes as no surprise that Canadians have become more obese and less sendentary over the last 25 years. However, statistics from the Canadian Health Measures Survey have now put some numbers on the scope of the problem, and the results aren’t pretty.

In the 1970’s and 80’s in Canada, there was a period of time where fitness was taken more seriously, at least in part due to the governmental ParticipACTION campaign. In 1981, the Canadian Fitness Survey reported that 56% of Canadian adults were active in their leisure time.
In 2008, that number has dropped to only 33%. Even worse – only 13% of Canadian children meet guidlines for recommended amounts of physical activity. Muscular strength and flexibility have fallen in Canadian adults, and the proportion of young adults with a waistline that puts them at risk of cardiovascular and metabolic health problems has more than quadrupled.

The need for more action from the government is clear. Comparisons to Canadian anti-smoking campaigns are often made; while the stop smoking campaigns have been comprehensive and strong, the committment by our government to promote active living has waxed and waned over the past decades. ParticipACTION lots its federal funding in the early 2000s, but was resurrected in 2007.

An easy way that we can all engage in active living is simply to incorporate activity into our daily ttransport routines. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator to get to your office or apartment is an easy one (if this is difficult at the start, try taking just one flight of stairs, and hop on the elevator for the remainder; you can build it up over time!). Park your car blocks away from your office and walk the rest (you may even save on parking this way!).

I learned a lot from the year I spent working at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark last year, with regards to active transportation. In Copenhagen, there are more bikes than there are cars, and rush hour bike traffic is a way of life. I rode my bike to work every day, which was only 5km away – but by the end of the year, this amounted to 2,000 km of cycling! Clearly, the Canadian climate is not always conducive to cycling to work, but even doing this for 8 months of the year would be an important contribution to an active lifestyle. Interestingly, even back in 1973 when Canadian dedication to an active lifestyle was stronger, the fitness of our 30 year olds was comparable to the fitness of a 60 year old Swede, which is at least partly attributable to this active transport lifestyle.

Dr. Sue © 2010