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Promoting Physical Activity in Ontario


- by Nancy Dubois, South region Active Living Community Facilitator


This week's feature on the promotion of physical activity looks at the issue from a number of perspectives -- the national, provincial and local levels of work being done; the mix of individual and community-oriented approaches being used; and the innovative uses of physical activity as both a healthy behaviour and the use to which it is being put as a means to other health outcomes.

Physical Inactivity - A Serious & Prevalent Health Risk

67% of Canadians are not active enough to benefit their health. In fact, they are so inactive that, not only are they not healthy, their health is at risk. It is the most prevalent of all risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease. The relative risk of physical inactivity is equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes of day. It is a factor in the development of other such health problems as obesity, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, colon cancer, hypertension and depression. Unfortunately, inactivity is not just a problem for adults. Just under two-thirds of Canadian children and youth do not meet the minimum activity guidelines for optimal healthy growth and development.

The Good News

According to the 1997 Physical Activity Benchmarks Highlights Report from the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI),

"Significant progress has been made since 1981. The number of Canadians who are active enough to achieve many of these health-related benefits has almost double from 21% in 1981 to 37% by 1995."

The continuation of this trend will bring economic benefits as well as individual health gains. CFLRI estimates that a 1% decrease in the number of inactive Canadians may reduce health care costs for ischemic heart disease alone by over $10 million annually.

We also know that 7 in 10 Canadians report intending to be active in the future. This intention is higher among those with higher education and income levels, and higher among young adults.

Many initiatives have contributed to this rise in activity levels. Some are highlighted below, followed by the challenge for the future.

Why are we so inactive?

There are many possible responses to this question including:

* We have engineered physical activity out of daily lives with the introduction of technology that, in turn, offers us convenience. Items such as garage door openers, email, riding lawn mowers, remote controls for TV, and car phones make it easier for us NOT to move. These "energy savers" are often perceived as rewards, toys and a way of "pampering" ourselves

* The pace at which we live our lives demands that we set priorities for our time. Making time for physical activity does not often "make the cut" as compared to job, home, commuting and family commitments.

* Access to the opportunity for physical activity may not be available to some. This may be due to economic, geographic or physical barriers.

* Our previous experiences with physical activity may not have been positive therefore making it less likely that we will become involved again. This might stem from a lack of skills when trying sports, self esteem issues that can arise from not feeling competent at an activity, or the lack of active role models in our family who helped establish our lifestyle habits.


i) Canada is on the "Leading Edge"

The concept of Active Living, where activity of all types is valued and integrated into daily life, is one that the World Health Organization has embraced and challenged countries worldwide to adopt. Representatives from all around the world visited with Health Canada last fall to find out more about our approach.

The political support that physical activity enjoys is one of the reasons for our success. Giant strides were made when, in August, 1997, the federal-provincial / territorial Ministers responsible for fitness, active living, recreation and sport approved and endorsed Physical Inactivity: A Framework for Action. This detailed health, social and economic aims and specific objectives to guide joint actions to reduce physical inactivity. As a result, the Ministers set as a joint target a 10% reduction in the proportion of inactive Canadians over the five-year period from 1998 to 2003. They recommended that some of the federal government resources for health research and reporting, be designated for studying the benefits, and measuring the impacts of preventative health initiatives related to physical activity, in particular, for children and youth.

One of the most significant supports made available to leaders in Canada was the launch of "Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living" in the fall of 1998. Similar in look to the Food Guide, this self-help resource assists people who want to know what kind and how much activity will meet their goals. In addition, a Handbook, display system, promotional materials and Communication Binder are also available. Copies can be accessed through Health Canada at If you are interested in learning more about the effective use of Canada's Physical Activity Guide, contact one of OPHEA's Active Living Community Action Project (ALCAP) COMMUNITY FACILITATORS for more information:

Northwest Anne Ostrom 807-473-9179

Northeast Lorrie Mickelson 705-647-8534

Eastern Louise Choquette 705-788-2804

South Nancy Dubois 519-446-3636

GTA Margaret Good 905-898-4382

Not all activity need be indoor nor facility based. We are extremely fortunate in Canada to be on the brink of being home to the largest trail system in the world. In the year 2000, the TransCanada Trail will open which will join all three of our coastlines. ParticipACTION is managing a unique "water relay" that will culminate in Ottawa. For details on the project in Ontario, contact Paul Damaso, Region Coordinator for Ontario at 416-954-3586 or

ii) Getting Ontarians Active

Each province has developed its own strategy to address the collective 10% goal of reducing physical inactivity in Canada. In Ontario, plans were well underway to address inactivity before this goal was set. Marj Keast, the driving force of Ontario's "Getting Ontarians Active" plan within the Ministry of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation (MCzCR), offers this summary:

In the fall of 1997, the ministries of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation (MCZCR), and Health (MOH), with input from the Ministry of Education and Training (MET), started implementing a joint physical activity strategy for Ontario to increase the levels of physical activity among Ontarians to respond to the health, social and economic costs associated with inactive lifestyles.

Ontario's physical activity strategy is based on the following key directions:

- Promote moderate amounts of activity that people who are inactive can easily incorporate into their daily lives;

- Target key settings in the community, workplace, schools, homes, recreation, sport and health settings;

- Partner with provincial organizations that can lead these settings to develop new resources and adapt the new approaches contained in the physical activity strategy to:

-enhance public education and communication;

-encourage supportive physical and social environments;

-encourage supportive policies;

-mobilize communities within the settings;

-monitor and evaluate initiatives.

iii) Partnerships and Initiatives in 5 Key Settings

MCZCR and MOH started the implementation of the set of coordinated initiatives in the fall of 1997 by forming partnerships with a number of provincial organizations to design and deliver the initiatives contained in the strategy. These lead organizations are responsible for:

- recruiting and working with partners and stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors;

- designing and delivering initiatives based on proven approaches for behaviour change;

- setting performance targets and evaluating effectiveness;

- levering resources and partnering with the private sector.

To date, partnerships have been formed and initiatives are underway within each of the following settings:

1) Community:

a) Ontario Physical Activity Network and Website to facilitate information sharing; resource distribution and peer support for leaders and organizations interested in encouraging people to be active.

Ontario Physical & Health Education Association (OPHEA) - lead organization

b) Active Living Community Action Program (ALCAP) to bring physical activity expertise, resources and training to community groups and leaders through five regional facilitators.

OPHEA - lead organization

c) Canada's Physical Activity Guide to support Ontario leaders and organizations in sport, recreation, active living, schools, workplaces and health in adapting the guide into their programs.

ParticipACTION - lead organization (416) 954-1212 (no web site available)

d) Seasonal Campaigns (i.e. SummerActive) to increase awareness, motivation and self-help.

ParticipACTION - lead organization

SummerActive '99 will be held in Ontario between May 1 to June 15. As a "first step", ParticipACTION will circulate a 2 week physical activity log. A promotional poster and "how to" action kit for community groups and leaders will accompany the logs. All resources will be available in both French and English. For more information, contact:

2) Recreation:

a) Tool kit for Recreation Leaders to help people get active and stay active. Parks and Recreation Ontario - lead organization

b) New Exercise Program Module to serve those who find exercise classes too fast-paced, hard to follow, and suited to those who are already fit. Parks and Recreation Ontario - lead organization

3) Sport:

a) Resource Manual for Community Sport Coaches to build their capacity in attracting and retaining sport participants

Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO) - lead organization

b) New Sport Models/Adaptations for Provincial Sport Organizations to enhance mass participation and lifelong participation.

Project Committee - lead for project

4) Homes:

a) Walking Guide for men and women in the "preparation stage" of readiness - includes fridge calendar for self-monitoring.

Halton & Hamilton-Wentworth Health Units - lead for project. Contact Carla Hanna in Halton at 905-825-6060.

5) Schools:

Active Schools - a comprehensive, multi-sectoral plan involving several strategies and programs to get kids more physically active at school.

a) What Active Schools Means for Educators

With the recent release of the New Elementary Physical and Health Education Curriculum and the upcoming release of the Secondary Curriculum pending, educators across the province face several new challenges. Active Schools involves several components which will provide support to teachers in the implementation of these new curricula:

* Case studies and best practices are being collected and disseminated

* A central list of resources which support curriculum implementation is being created

* A series of workshops is being organized which will provide quality instruction in the areas of Quality Daily Physical Education and Safety Guidelines for physical activity

* The Provincial Working Group is working to connect and facilitate policies which support daily physical activity in schools

A great deal of physical activity can be experienced by children through co-curricular pursuits such as interschool sport, intramurals, walking clubs, dance groups, etc. The Provincial Working Group is facilitating the enhancement and recognition of programming which increases physical activity participation for students both as part of the curriculum and through these valuable co-curricular activities.

b) What Active Schools Means for Health Units and Heart Health

While Active Schools targets the education system, the plan recognizes that getting kids active at school is not simply a school issue. Hence, the plan also incorporates the needs and contributions of other sectors, such as health units and Heart Health sites. Active Schools is an effective vehicle for Heart Health sites to achieve their school-based health objectives and directly addresses the chronic disease mandate of health units. Heart Health Sites and health unit Physical Activity Coordinators can access the resources (e.g. Royal Bank Activ8, Heart Healthy Tool Kit, etc.), programming and communication packages created as part of the Active Schools plan as they support the education system in the implementation of physical activity events, guidelines, continuing education, etc.

c) What Active Schools Means for Recreation and Fitness Leaders

An increasing level of partnership is being witnessed between the education and recreation and fitness sectors. This can be seen in shared use of facilities, provision of certification training for teachers or connections to provincial events like SummerActive. The Active Schools plan involves components aimed at facilitating these partnerships, fostering a stronger connection between school and community through physical activity-based events and the support of such initiatives as:

* the dissemination of the Physical Activity Guide to families

* the Active & Safe Routes to School program

* developing awareness of new initiatives in the sport & recreation sectors such as the High Five Quality Assurance Program or the Ready-Set-Go! Multilateral Sport Development Club and website.

OPHEA - lead organization

For further information about Ontario's strategy contact: Marj Keast, Ministry of Citizenship, Culture & Recreation.

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All of these national and provincial initiatives are designed with the community leader in mind. That leader might coach a sports team, instruct fitness classes, coordinate a neighbourhood walking group, design community media campaigns or advocate for local trails. Highlighted below are a few of the many success stories that illustrate the progress we are making in Ontario.

a) Active Living Ambassadors

Community: Waterloo Region

Contact: Mary Louise Coffey,

Summary: The Parks and Recreation Department, the Community Health Department, the VON and other partners have joined forces to support a team of over 50 older adults. Many have been trained in fitness leadership for seniors (through the Seniors Fitness Instructor Course at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at the University of Western Ontario - and lead classes in outlying areas; they have successfully advocated for longer times for crosswalk lights to allow for safe crossings; the VON offers WALCs (Waterloo Active Living Clinics) in the rural areas; and they are creating a promotional video.

b) Outdoor Adventures for Girls

Community: Ottawa-Carleton

Contact: Kathy Beauregard, Ottawa-Carleton Health (613)724-4122 ext 6124 Deanne Donohue, Canadian Intramural Recreation Association at (613) 748-5639.

Summary: The Youth Committee of the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Heart Beat Program is implementing this program for girls 11 to 14 years of age. Throughout the program, the 2 facilitators cover specific life skills such as goal setting, problem-solving, positive self-talk and social support through group discussions, role-playing and small group activities.

c) Comprehensive Sidewalk Policy

Community: Windsor-Essex

Contact: Neil McKenzie, Windsor-Essex Health Unit, 519-258-2146 ext. 263

Summary: The community Active Living Network has been working for the last 4-5 years on the development of policies to ensure the availability of sidewalks in all six area municipalities. Two have established effective policies and strategies are in place to address the other four. The assistance of an Urban Planning graduate has been key to their success.