Friday, 23 September 2011

#28: I Don't Want to See You Again

Many things make me angry. People who walk extremely slowly on sidewalks are one of them. Even worse are people who don't know HOW to walk on sidewalks. But worst of all, without a doubt, are cyclists, for whatever reason, riding their bikes on the sidewalk. It's illegal, it's unsafe, and it's stupid! This makes my blood boil with rage and sooner or later I'm going to snap. I've decided to channel my anger, rage and negative energy into a more creative, constructive (and less violent) outlet and so have written a poem. It goes like this:

You're riding on the sidewalk
A place you shouldn't be
You almost hit a child
we're getting very angry

The road is right beside you
The lane is just for you
Why you have to ride on ours
It's something you need not do

You think you have a right to be there
You ring your stupid bell
If you ask me to move one more time
I'll send you straight to hell

You're speeding and you're swerving
You're texting on your phone
You're paying no attention
You think the lane's your own

It's illegal and it's stupid
Where is your common sense
You're going to hurt somebody
You're making us all tense

Get off the goddamn sidewalk
Our anger has amassed
If you don't ride off the sidewalk
This ride could be your last

#27: From Us to You

I just spent my entire Friday morning writing this blog post; I hope it's a good one.

So, I’ve been trying to come up with interesting ideas for blog posts and went from having nothing a few days ago to being overwhelmed with ideas and topics. I began by composing my personal thoughts and feelings on the topics of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide which I’ll argue (in support of) should be as much about compassion and respect as about ethics and economics. I become instantly overwhelmed in the discourse and literature so have put that off for another day (stay tuned). I then read a Globe and Mail article about fertility treatments for the obese and of course had a few things to say about that (I think they should be banned on the grounds that being biologically infertile due to obesity is a clear sign that one should not be having children as well as that I worry about the environment the resulting child will be raised in). There was also an article about another (very unoriginal) women raising money for charity by “running” a marathon and eating nothing but McDonald’s for a month (if you missed it I think this is ridiculous, foolish and doesn’t even deserve a comment). Then yesterday during my second lecture in public health policy, I (and the whole class) was challenged by the professor to actually do something to contribute to our collective understanding of the topic which is what I will attempt do today...

So I’m taking (another) course called ‘ An Intro to Public Health Policy’, which is an area I am entirely new too. I was accepted to a special program called the CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research) Strategic Training Program in Public Health Policy and thus am required to take some additional courses, attend ‘policy rounds’, ‘lunch and learns’ (can’t argue with free food), ‘institutes’ and ‘training pods.’

Essentially what this means is that we (40 or so students) get a comprehensive overview of the public health system here in Canada as well as what are current topics and issues being addressed. My ‘expertise’ in this area or what I bring to the table is my passion for physical activity and our dire need to get people active. I am thus going to briefly give an overview of public health and more specifically the relevance and implication of physical activity/exercise for the topic. So here it goes...

A good definition of Public Health taken straight from Wikipedia is: "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals" (1920, C.E.A. Winslow).

Another one is: “Many, but not all, of its activities deal with the health of populations. Much, but not all, of the focus is on prevention. Some, but not all, of the activities are carried out by organizations designated as ‘public health” (Deber).

Public health ‘outcomes’ or goals include, but are not restricted to, the “health protection and promotion” functions such as disease surveillance, disease and injury prevention, health protection, health emergency preparedness and response, health promotion and relevant research undertakings (Kirby and LeBreton). I won’t talk at all about policy (since I still know nothing about it) but just know that public health policy is essentially concerned with the rules, laws, regulations and legislation that is concerned with any public health issue.

Confused? Relevant public health topics might include community/city water treatment and fluoridation; pesticide and chemical use; immunization for the flu, and other infectious diseases; tobacco use and second hand smoke; obesity; healthy eating and nutrition (labels on food); alcohol and drug regulation; physical activity and exercise and there are many many more.

Remember that health is multidimensional and includes physical, emotional and social components. It is not merely the absence of disease or illness. While Western cultures and societies routinely attribute ‘health’ to mean physical/physiological health, it is far more complex than this. Each individual ‘aspect’ of health is known to affect (both good and bad) the others: good physical health is known to contribute to positive emotional and social health outcomes; poor social health can compromise physical and emotional health; good social health can enhance emotional health but compromise physical health; and so on and so forth. It’s complicated!

The point I want to make is that physical activity is, should or at least can be a major component of positive health and wellbeing. It certainly contributes to good physical health (fitness) but can also benefit one’s emotional and social health as well. It is thus an important topic and aspect of public health. One’s individual health is thus not only a personal responsibility but also a social responsibly. “Personal responsibilities are social responsibilities” (MDF Doyle). Our health attitudes and behaviours both directly and indirectly impact others and society as a whole.

Currently very few Canadians are physically active. In fact only about 15% of Canadian adults meet the recommendations for daily and weekly physical activity (Colley et al., 2011). The recommendations endorsed by Health Canada (through ParticipACTION and the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists (CSEP)) as well as by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) are as follows:

“For adults:

To achieve health benefits, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity (think brisk walking, cycling, jogging, cross-country skiing) aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes of more. It is preferred that activity be achieved as at least 30 minutes on 5 days of the week.

It is also beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week.

More physical activity provides greater health benefits.”

The recommendation for older adults (65 years and older) are essentially the same as for adults, while children and youth are suggested to accumulate at least 60 minutes of exercise EVERY day and vigorous and strength training activities at least 3 times per week. See the following link for more detailed info:

Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: telling people to go out and exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week at so and so intensity (heart rate) is NOT going to work. Exercise sucks; it’s terrible! No one wants to be told they have/need to do something and certainly not told that they need to do it continuously and indefinitely, especially if it’s actually kinda hard and demanding (physically, mentally and perhaps socially). I understand why I (and we) need to do it (to become healthier and more fit), and luckily I’ve found a way to actually want to do it and to enjoy it; but I acknowledge that it’s not going to work for everyone. The idea of physical activity is far more important than exercise. It has to become enjoyable, pleasurable, and fun. It has to become routine and normalized; a lifestyle. It should become something we/you want to do, not something you need to do it. And let’s face it; you don’t need to do it! Choosing to be physically active is a personal choice; no one is going to force you to do it.

Physical activity: It can be fun too!

I’ve rambled on much longer than I should so I’m going to stop. I hope by now you a) better understand what public health is and why it’s important; b) understand that physical activity (and dare I say exercise) is an important aspect of personal AND public health; and c) what the physical activity recommendations are for you and your loved ones. I didn’t say why physical activity is important or why recommendations for it are necessary but I hope you can begin to see why they are.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

#25: For No One

It seems like ages ago that I last wrote anything about anything and while I still have very little important to say, I felt it was my duty to put together something for your collective amusement. So here it goes...

The primary reason that I haven't had time (or energy) to do much writing is that marathon training has stepped up a notch and a large minority of my time is spent running; and when I'm not actually out running, I'm thinking and mentally preparing for the next time I will be. To be perfectly honest, I have to admit that I've become a bit obsessed with it of late to the point where it's becoming distracting. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I take my running and training very seriously (perhaps too much so!) and want to do the best possible job I can in order to succeed. As this is my first attempt at the distance, there is a great deal of trust and belief that must be had that the training and hard work will in fact pay off come race day. While tempo, race pace and speed work are an inherent parts of the training and workouts, I will never come close to actually running the given distance (42.2km) at the planned pace (4:00/km) which means that I must have faith that I will be able to complete the task on the day given the training I have dedicated 14 weeks towards.

I won't go into too much detail because they simply aren't exciting in the least, but my mileage has increased to roughly 120km per week which will continue for the next two weeks before beginning a two week taper leading to October 16th. I'll be doing a tune-up race this weekend in St. Catherine’s (the Run for the Grapes Half-marathon) where we (Doyle and myself) will plan to start out roughly at goal pace and then pick it up in the second part of the race as long as things are feeling good. This will provide confidence in executing a plan and also test our physical fitness and mental stability.

But enough about my running. There are some other topics of recent interest that I'd like to comment on and hope you find it insightful.

First up: The Running Room and who is and isn't a "runner". I know that I've said/written/suggested here and elsewhere that running for me is a pursuit of excellence and self-improvement and thus race times and performance play a major role in my personal motivation for running. But I also understand and appreciate that this is not true or important for everyone. In fact, there are hundreds of reasons why individuals run and all of them are equally acceptable and worthy. Not everyone can run a sub 3 hour marathon or a sub 40 10k nor should they be expected too. There is no one size fits all definition of what it takes to be a runner and so as long as we share an interest and passion for running and the value and significance it adds to our lives; then we are all runners. I do not intend to differentiate types and qualities of runners (although difference surely exist) or suggest that some are less worthy of the title of "runner" than others; but again, I do acknowledge that differences do exist and may mean different things to different people. And while I may have criticised the Running Room in the past for catering, marketing and ultimately profiting from a particular demographic that I do not relate well too; they do an exceptional job to get people involved in the sport and increase the overall popularity of running. Ultimately what matters to me is the promotion and pursuit of increased health and fitness; something I will support every time. And we should all be agreed that anyone interested in running is on side with these goals. So let's agree that we are all runners and we are all in for the same pursuits of improved health, fitness, and personal satisfaction.

Next: Women's (professional) sport. A friend of mine and previous colleague is very active in pointing out the unfair discrimination and inequality that woman’s sport continues to face and the uphill battle that it faces. Yes, I agree, it sucks and it's unfair. Men get paid more, get more attention and get more opportunity to develop and succeed in the sporting world. Women DO deserve equal opportunity to participate and enjoy the many advantages that sport can provide and offer... BUT when it comes to professional sports, we are taking about a business that is interested in profits and entertainment value. And let's face it, women's sports can't deliver! No one cares about women's basketball, softball or even hockey (the Olympics are a 4 year exception) because let's be honest, it's boring and women aren't as good as the guys. This is an inarguable fact; not one that is socially constructed or perceived. A woman will never run faster than a man in the 100m or even the marathon; she will never jump higher or throw a javelin further. She will not score more goals, sink more baskets or hit more home runs. And while I agree that these accomplishments are essentially meaningless in themselves; people want to see the fastest, strongest and most skilled...and that will always be a man. This isn't misogynist or sexist; it's fucking true! End of story.

Finally: obesity. Yes, my topic of eternal interest and (unfortunately) one that is not likely to go away any time soon. Perhaps not surprising (or maybe so) is that my primary 'opposition' to obesity and indirectly to people who are obese is one of (public) health. I do not believe that being overweight/obese is healthy (not physically, emotionally or socially!) and thus I am an advocate of its prevention, intervention and treatment. Obviously, doing any of these things has and continues to be an extremely problematic issue that gains a considerable deal of attention and this is only likely to grow in the near future. I therefore can offer no obvious solutions to fix this monumental problem. This will require a great deal of time and likely will need to consider specific individuals and small samples rather than large groups or populations, which is why I believe we have failed so greatly so far. The obesity "epidemic" is a social problem that is 'caused'/results from individual (in)action and thus requires individual solutions. Essentially, I believe that being healthy (which in this case means not being obese) is not only a personal responsibility; but that it is also a social responsibility. Bad habits and behaviour are dangerously contagious, especially when such behaviour requires doing nothing at all! Obesity is also a (socio)economic issue, a cultural and ethnic issue and even an aesthetic issue; and despite a growing voice to suggest otherwise, it IS an issue and one which needs to be addressed. I admit that there are dozens, hundreds, and perhaps thousands of factors and determinants which all contribute to the final effect (an increasingly obese society); but that does not mean that the problem is so hopelessly complicated that it is futile or naive to suggest simple solutions. Fundamental thermodynamics offers the simplest of these solutions: by decreasing one's energy intake (Eating Less!) and increasing its expenditure/usage (Moving More!), physical mass (ie body weight) can be converted (not technically lost) to other forms and the body will get smaller! So we can tax junk food and sugary drinks; we can ban food advertising to kids; we can put bigger labels on food packages; we can teach kids about healthy eating and even suggest that they get more physical activity... but we also have to tell everyone to do the math and find out what balance of energy, in vs out, works for them and keeps them healthy.

And one last thing: If you own a bike, please don't ride it on the sidewalk! I used to think that slow walking people annoyed me most in this world, but my ire has now been firmly directed towards the idiots who feel the need to cycle in the middle of downtown Toronto sidewalks. There is absolutely no need for this. It's not only about safety and following the law; it about courtesy and common sense. My patience with the human race is reaching it's limits...