Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some is good. More is better. Everything counts.

That's my 8 word manifesto for fitness.

And really that's what it comes right down to and that's exactly what I tried to impress upon the Public Health Agency of Canada during a stakeholder's meeting that I had the pleasure of attending a few days ago regarding the development of the pending 2010 edition of the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

I've got to admit, walking into the meeting I didn't know what to expect and given my already negative response to CSEP's initial press release, I figured I might be in for it - but I needn't have worried, everyone was quite friendly.

Ultimately we were tasked to look at some of the messaging of the new guidelines as well as brain storm regarding delivery. We were one of 8 cross the country groups so tough to tell how much sway any particular group may or may not have on the final outcome and also tough to tell how far down the road they are in terms of willingness to change an almost finished product.

One of the main sources of agreement amongst the 20 or so of us there was that Canadians already know they ought to be exercising and so the release of yet another stodgy, "you need to exercise this many minutes a day to be healthy" isn't likely to do anything more to actually affect behavioural change than the last such set of guidelines.

I suggested the focus be on trying to work that 8 word manifesto because my fear is that when people hear that you need a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise, they may be too intimidated to even try, whereas if we could just get people moving regularly, they may find that they enjoy moving, or enjoy how moving makes them feel and some may even move more.

Interestingly, and I believe accurately, in their summary statements of what exercise is good for across various age groups, weight loss isn't included. I suggested that this point needs emphasis because I wonder how many people give up their annual January exercise resolutions because the exercise they took up in the name of weight loss didn't have its desired effect? Realistic goal setting is crucial for maintenance of new behaviours and hammering that point home, while simultaneously emphasizing the incredible health benefits of exercise, even if already overweight, I think would be a key component in new guidelines.

To that end, I and many other participants, felt it would be integral to the process for there to be a web-based component specifically geared to try to help teach Canadians about energy balance, replete with an age, weight, height, sex and activity level based resting energy expenditure calculator and a chart or widget that would help explain how much energy doing a particular activity might burn both in caloric and in food based terms.

While I have no idea if any of our ideas will be utilized I can certainly tell you I was heartened by the sincerity and passion in the room, am hopeful that my input was helpful, and am thankful to the Public Health Agency of Canada for inviting me despite my big, loud mouth.