Thursday, May 13, 2010

Canadian health authorities recommend we exercise less?!

Yesterday the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the social awareness experiment called ParticipACTION recommended that Canadians exercise less.

What do I mean?

Well old guidelines advised Canadian kids to aim for 90 minutes of daily exercise and adults 30-60 minutes.

The new ones?

Kids are now supposed to aim for 60 minutes a day and adults 21 minutes a day if the exercise isn't particularly vigorous and 13 minutes if it is (they're recommending 90-150 minutes per week depending on intensity).

I guess their thinking is that perhaps the facepalm ridiculous recommendations of 90 minutes a day for kids and 60 minutes a day for adults was too daunting and that by actually recommending we aim for less, people will be less paralyzed with the knowledge they'll never hit the targets and actually do more.

Personally I think both the old and the new sets of recommendations are backwards.

What CSEP and ParticipACTION should be calling for are changes to the environment we live in, rather than calling for changes in individuals.

Off the top of my head they should be calling for:

- Tax exemptions for gym memberships, sporting equipment and organized sports.
- Industry encouragement to provide multiple 10-15 minute fitness breaks for employees.
- Corporate tax breaks dependent on the percentage of employees with proof of gym memberships or for corporation's whose health plans include fitness dollars.
- Increase in recess time and a greater focus on play in schools.
- Modification of parking lots to encourage parking further away with better lighting, creative line painting and signage.
- Renovation of government stairwells with better lighting, paint, art and music along with signage steering people to the stairs in building such as hospitals, libraries, art galleries and museums.
- Bike lanes anywhere and everywhere possible.
- Improving the country's hiking trails and mounting public awareness campaigns as to their existences.

Do CSEP and PartipACTION truly believe that by simply telling Canadians how many minutes a day they ought to exercise they're actually going to get Canadians out doing it? Given that there has never been a public health intervention where a simple call to action to exercise has been successful in inspiring people to do more exercise, including the 30 years of ParticipACTION between 1970 and 2000 when obesity rates in children tripled and exercise dropped off, if they do believe it they're quite simply delusional.

Our environment, our fast paced lifestyles, our perpetual kid carpooling, our electronic smart phone tethers, our always on Internet - these things are not going away and if we weren't finding the time to exercise before, telling us we have to do less certainly isn't likely to help us exercise more.

We need to physically change our environment to make physical activity unavoidable. All setting our exercise bar lower does is gives us all a lower target not to hit.

We need to enable action, not just call for it.

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  1. Anonymous11:29 am

    I agree with some of your points, mostly for creating a more bike-friendly environment.

    But, let's face it: just because somebody has a gym membership doesn't guarantee that person exercises, so why should that person be tax-exempted?! What about people who are ALREADY fit and healthy - shouldn't they get some sort of monetary reward with that rationale?

    I really think that some things such as your own weight, fitness level and nutrition should be an individual's responsibility, not a federal action. I agree that government could make things more accessible, but bottom line is: it's up to the individual and his/her choices. If individuals took more responsibility about their own health, I believe this would be a less-fat and happier society.:)

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond.


    Toronto reader

  2. Thanks for the comment Anonymous.

    I don't think we're on different pages.

    Bottom line here - if we want people to take more responsibility for their own health, we need to empower them to do so.

  3. Mavis1:37 pm

    Scary to think we are going backwards. Humans are bioorganisms that were designed through evolution to be extremely active. The diseases we suffer from today almost all relate to putrification and inflammation due to limited oxygenation, blood regeneration and exposure to toxins. Exercise is the best form of immunity we could ask for. The writers of the recommendations probably don't get 60 minutes a day so why should they expect other Canadians to...

  4. 150 min is 30 min x 5 days. The 2002 recommendations was 30 min most days (meaning at least 5 days) which is in fact 150min. So this is exactly the same recommedations but stated otherwise. This is indeed the translation of reaching 1000 kcal of exercise per week that could be reached by different mixed of duration and intensity.
    I am glad that you mention the built environment. It should has been mentionned somewhere in their paper.

  5. Anonymous11:40 am

    This is in response to Paul:

    You are noting ACSM guidelines. Canada does not abide by those guides but instead those set forth by PHAC which wants 60 per day on adults and 90 for children. The message is to mix moderate and vigorous. The new guidelines fall in line with those of ACSM which were also made with the impression that they would be less daunting and more likely to encourage some PA.

    It is unfortunate if Canada changes the guides after being praised at the recent ICPHPA in Toronto about leading the way in PA guidelines.

  6. I agree, it could make a great difference to have "bike lanes anywhere and everywhere possible." Could be a great research question: Comparison of obesity rates in cities or regions with many [safe] bike lines vs. little or none.