Column: Getting Canadians active is imperative to a better quality of life

At the United Nations conference on health and development in New York earlier this month, a panel was examining the role of sports in the human community.

We must, it was said, get rid of the notion that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

These words came from Brazilian president Michel Temer. The point was that only progressive governments and initiatives are going to be able to achieve better health outcomes and reduce the burden of disease.

Our own government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has made some progress on this front but has fallen far short of what it needs to do to meet the goal of ensuring that all Canadians are active for over an hour per day.

It’s really an issue of perspective.

The average of two hours of moderate physical activity a day recommended by most experts is achieved in only about one in 10 Canadians.

For those who are sedentary, Canadians aren’t getting the required amount of activity and maintaining their health.

We must push for more strenuous activities like cycling and walking in our children and families or be held accountable for what we are failing to do for ourselves.

Physical activity is no longer solely about sport; it is increasingly about health and social benefits. Increasing physical activity and improving the health and well-being of Canadians is an important and powerful public health initiative with economic benefits to follow.

Now is the time to implement quality physical activity programs that promote health and boost productivity while reducing the rates of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Steps like this can’t be taken simply by existing bureaucracies; professionals from across a variety of fields need to collaborate, through partnerships, to create programs that are both effective and sustainable.

One example is Parks Canada’s preschool playground and inclusion of the Canadian sportswriter Bert Hunter’s program, Go Green, in their program.

The program is designed to encourage children aged between four and five to get outside and engage in good exercise and play.

Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly’s initiative of giving $100 million to communities across the country for local, provincial and federal initiatives to address social determinants of health is a great example of how government and community can work together.

While government programs and initiatives aren’t the only ones that will make a difference, initiatives that support sports and active recreation don’t end there.

My own organization, ParticipAction, is committed to supporting community sports and sportsperson development.

As we all know, not everyone can play a sport. Just like no one can consume a particular product or have been able to be as successful as others.

The communities we all belong to, and the communities that our athletes represent, need programs that connect people with each other, minimize social isolation and support community participation in sport.

Too often the priority is for sports programs and sportsperson development programs to concentrate on health and well-being of elite athletes.

This is where ParticipACTION works with governments and communities to ensure that they are properly engaging with, and investing in, all levels of citizens.

At many levels, the second biggest impact we can have is to ensure the health and well-being of all Canadians is paramount and is not overlooked.

One recent ParticipAction exercise study concluded that Canadians need as much activity as possible in their daily lives if they are to stay fit and healthy.

This means that those who live most sedentary lifestyles (less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day) can be expected to be missing as many as nine days out of 10.

In fact, ParticipACTION’s analysis of a population sample of 20,000 individuals has found that every extra hour of physical activity added over the lifespan can increase healthy life expectancy by one year.

Most people know physical activity is important. They may be able to participate in some form of sport, recreational activity or walking or biking and many can, for example, be involved in activities such as gardening or even aerobics.

What many people often don’t realize is how much more essential it is for them to get active on a daily basis.

The best way to help all Canadians achieve a better quality of life is to get them involved in activities that add so much to their lives.

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