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.