Many of you should be well aware that we are currently facing an “epidemic of inactivity.” Sedentary lifestyles have become the norm and less than 15% of Canadian adults meet (inter)national recommendations for daily and weekly physical activity (PA) known to improve and enhance health and well-being. This then often leads to many more complicated problems (lack of fitness -> overweight/obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, poor mental health) that ultimately end up costing every one of us since we all contribute to our publicly funded health care system. Individual health is not only a personal responsibility, but a social one too!
Knowing that Canadians are inactive is all well and good but the real question then becomes: How do we convince, promote and motivate individuals to be more physically active?
Preaching (education, public messages, etc) about the value and importance of PA doesn't seem to be working. I think most people would agree that exercise and physical activity is good for us! The evidence for this is simply irrefutable. So what are the other options? Surely we can't force people to become physically active. There is no law that says you MUST be physically active and thus regulating PA also seems bleak for meaningful intervention. Another tool then is to perhaps offer incentives or rewards for those who choose to be physically active. Incentives are very often economic in nature (think tax credits like the Children Fitness Tax Credit) but could also be symbolic and personally-derived (think an increased sense of well-being, superior health and fitness, improved body image and self-esteem, etc). So far there are few, financial or otherwise, incentives offered to promote physical activity and I feel this is an area of much potential in the near future.
For now, I would like to share/propose an idea I had for a general "program" or "project" that I hope can convince and challenge more of us to be physically active. I just came up with it an hour ago so probably haven’t thought it through…
Nevertheless, I stems from my own personal passion for physical activity and from an activity that I truly believe any one can do: running!
"Bet you can't run just one: Meters to marathon."
Starting to run can be an intimidating and daunting task and will not be successful the first time out. It takes time, patience, practice and perseverance. The first time I ever ran was back in high school and I can remember planning to go around the block (about 5k) I made it only about 2k before I was on my hands and knees gasping for air. I proceeded to walk for several minutes before trying again and sure enough it was not long before I was walking slowly again, clutching my churning stomach and pounding lungs. That is a memory I will never forget. I can't remember the second or third time I ran, or even the tenth, but I do recall the slow, gradual process of getting better and being able to go further and further. This provided me with a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction; sensations which have only intensified and accumulated over time.
Running can no doubt provide a plethora of advantages and benefits over other activities: increased physical health and fitness: endurance, strength, flexibility, speed; improved body composition, image and satisfaction; enhanced self-efficacy,-confidence and -esteem; decreased stress, depression and anxiety; social interaction, friendships and membership; social support and recognition; it is fairly inexpensive and requires no special equipment, facilities or fees; it can be done alone or within a group; feelings of pride, accomplishment and success; and ultimately a sense of self-satisfaction. Running has it all! The proposed goal of 'Meters to Marathon (MTM)' is to encourage individuals of all ages to embrace recreational running as not only a mode of exercise or health behaviour but as a lifestyle.
Beginners, amateurs and pros alike can benefit tremendously from regular running and the subculture of running. The task is simple: Take it one day at a time and try to run a little more each day. Be sure to warm up briefly beforehand and cool down afterwards, and ensure you have a comfortable pair of shoes and apparel. Start with a brisk 10min walk then try and run/jog for a few minutes, maybe 5 at the most, then walk some more. Keep track of your progress (write it down) and set a realistic goal. Start by running three days a week and add a fourth day after a week or two. Listen to your body and know when to back off or take an extra rest day. Don’t allow yourself to overcompensate on food for the activity you’ve done. This isn’t a weight loss program and the goal here is increased fitness; not decreased “fatness’ (although they often compliment each other!). The process will be invigorating, reinforcing and intensely rewarding. Good luck.