Canadians are lazier than Americans and aren't getting the exercise they need, according to a new study. But a St. Albert man has a simple solution: get a bike.
Statistics Canada released two studies this week measuring fitness levels in Canadian children and adults. The studies are part of the Canadian Health Measures Survey, which is the country's most comprehensive health study in years.
The studies had about 2,832 adults and 1,608 children wear pedometers and accelerometers to track the amount and intensity of physical activity they did per week. They found that just 15 per cent of adults and seven per cent of children got the recommended amount of exercise — about 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week for adults and about 60 minutes per day for kids.
Previous studies have shown Canadians were less fit now than they were in the 1980s, notes Glenn Wilson, a phys-ed teacher at Leo Nickerson elementary and member of the Health and Physical Education Council of Alberta, but these results are still a shocker. Fortunately, St. Albert has plenty of ways to help people get fit. "For the average person to get involved, there's so many things to do."
Too much sitting around
Adult Canadians spend about 68 per cent of their waking hours stationary, the studies found, compared to about 60 per cent for Americans. Canadian adults spend about 10 hours a day sitting still, compared to about nine for kids.
There are many theories as to why people aren't getting enough exercise, says Rachel Colley, lead author of the studies. "A lot more adults are working office jobs," she says as an example, and many kids are spending about six hours a day in front of computer or TV screens.
Then there's technology, Wilson adds. "Historically, activity was apart of our lifestyle in order to survive," he says. Appliances and cars have made life easier and people lazier. "People feel entitled to their health but do nothing about it."
This inactivity puts Canadians at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and other illnesses, Colley notes — ills that will mean shorter lives for our kids. "We're going to see chronic disease, diabetes and high blood pressure much earlier than we're used to seeing them."
It's not all bad news, Colley notes: about half of adults get 30 minutes of exercise at least once a week, and about 44 per cent of kids get 60 minutes of exercise three days of the week. "There are huge benefits from going from no activity to just a little bit," she notes, so any exercise helps.
Exercising 150 minutes a week can seem intimidating, says Angela Torry of the Alberta Centre for Active Living, but it's much less so if you break it up. "The best way to think about it is 30 minutes five days a week."
St. Albert is the perfect community for that sort of everyday activity, Wilson says, since it has a comprehensive trail and sidewalk system, and almost everything is within an eight-kilometre distance. "Buy a cheap bike and just ride back and forth to work."
Schools should do more to encourage kids to stay active by teaching sports skills instead of sports, he continues — ball passing, for example, instead of football. Junk food taxes could also discourage poor eating habits and offset the cost of health problems, Wilson adds.
Getting fit doesn't necessarily mean hitting the gym, Torry says — it can be a 10 minute coffee walk at lunch and a 10 minute hike to the store. "You can be active for 10 minutes littered throughout the day and you can actually reach these guidelines."
The studies can be found at statcan.gc.ca.