By Susan Poizner
Special to The Toronto Sun
We all know that physical activity is good for us. Research has shown that moderate exercise can decrease the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and even some forms of cancer. Ideally, most of us would like to be more active. But when it comes to going to the gym or taking up tennis, who has time?
At Morton Way Public School in Brampton, 600 children from grades 1 to 5 are participating in a SummerActive program that includes skipping, soccer, dance and parachute games.
The goal of this year's SummerActive campaign (www.summeractive.canoe.ca) is to help Canadians understand that increasing physical activity is easier than you'd think. Partially funded by Health Canada, the campaign runs from May 9 to June 21, and involves hundreds of events across the country, showing us that becoming fit is easier and much more enjoyable than we think.
"We're not asking Canadians to become a nation of marathoners," says Health Canada spokesperson Joe Doiron. "We want to show that introducing physical activity into our day-to-day life is achievable. If they see that taking small steps towards fitness can make a difference, Canadians will embrace physical activity much more."
During the six-week period, there are at least 100 events taking place across Ontario. And the leaders of the events this year -- many of whom are community health-care workers or social service providers -- have come up with a variety of creative ways to encourage people to get active and have a good time.
The Thunder Bay Health Unit, for example, organized a poker walk where employees are given a playing card every time they spend 30 minutes exercising. The walker with the best hand at the end of the campaign won a prize. In Mississauga, community centres opened their doors on May 3 and invited locals to try out aqua-fit, Indian dance, yoga and tai chi classes.
Other events include Health and Fitness Bingo and half-hour organized workplace walks. Health Canada says thousands of people have registered their participation in these events across the country. But due to the current SARS threat, fewer events have been organized in the city this year.
"Normally, the Toronto Public Health Unit holds a workplace challenge, encouraging employees to become more physically active. But this year they didn't because financial and human resources have been so focused on SARS," says Monica Majewski, SummerActive campaign co-ordinator for Ontario.
SummerActive is just one of many government initiatives to encourage the population to take fitness seriously. But while Canadians are more physically active today than they were in the 1980s -- the statistics are still alarming. According to Health Canada, two thirds of the population remains inactive.
"The health-care community plays a critical role in providing the information and necessary support to individual Canadians in terms of regular physical activity," Joe Doiron says. "For example, The College of Family Physicians is now training young doctors how to encourage patients to incorporate physical activity into their lives."
It may last just six-weeks, but Monica Majewski says this initiative, together with other programs and policies making physical activity accessible and affordable for most of the population, can make a big difference.
"In essence, healthy citizens reduce the cost on our health-care system," she explains. "That's one of the goals of this campaign. We want to introduce people to physical activity and hope, during the six-week campaign, to whet their appetite so they'll continue that pattern during the summer months."
(Susan Poizner (email@example.com)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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