The challenge of National Fitness Day? Turning 1 day of activity into healthy lifestyles

The more time we sit, the higher the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Getty Images

Companies, organizations and politicians across the country are encouraging Canadians to get out of their seats, put down the smartphones and get moving.

Saturday is National Health and Fitness Day. It takes place every year on the first Saturday of June and the goal is to encourage Canadians to do something active.

Proponents of the national day want to make Canada the “fittest nation on Earth.” But a quick look at the stats show we have a long way to go.

One in three children and youth are considered overweight or obese in Canada. And most kids don’t outgrow it. Nearly 60 per cent of Canadian adults are considered either overweight or obese, increasing their risk of heart disease, cancer, strokes and type 2 diabetes.

Of course, one national day of activity isn’t enough to reverse the proliferation of unhealthy lifestyles in Canada – obesity is a serious national challenge, heart disease or stroke claims a life every seven minutes, and the “sitting disease” is a real thing.

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A 2012 global study published in The Lancet, looking at the effect of physical inactivity on health, measured the ‘fitness’ of 122 countries. Many nations ranked in the top 10 of most physically active were countries with low income per capita. Active lifestyles were largely due to jobs requiring physical work and exertion. The top 10 included Burma, Mongolia, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

Compare the nature of work in those countries to Canada, where many spend hours a day sitting in traffic, sitting at a desk, and sitting on the couch.

READ MORE: Why too much sitting time increases risk of disease even if you exercise

The more time we sit, the higher the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And going to the gym for 30 minutes isn’t enough to stave off disease. “Even if we do a half hour or hour of exercise per day, it does not give us reassurance that sitting for the other 23 hours of the day is okay,” said Dr. David Atler, a senior scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and lead author of a Canadian study on the relationship between sedentary lifestyles and disease.

The idea that we need move more and do so more regularly and consistently throughout the day is something Harley Pasternak wholeheartedly agrees with.

“Canadians are over-exercising, but underactive,” said Pasternak, celebrity trainer and author of 5 Pounds, which among other things advocates we take at least 10,000 steps a day. “We’ll go to a spin class but we’ll take the elevator to the third floor to do it, or we’ll go to do a boot camp, but we’ll cab there.”

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WATCH BELOW: Harley Pasternak on why we need to move more and exercise less

“There’s 168 hours in the week, so if you’re in the gym for four hours a week, there’s still 164 hours that you’re not in the gym. And it’s that time that’s way more impactful than any time you spend working out,” he said.

“Canadians aren’t moving their bodies enough to reap all the good things that come from being active, such as reduced risk of chronic disease, better fitness, more fun, healthy body weight, self-confidence, new skills and better mental health,” said Elio Antunes, President & CEO of ParticipACTION.

If you’re looking for activities to do on Saturday, ParticipACTION has put together a list for families and communities, including:

  • Heading to a park and setting up a fun obstacle course
  • Go to your local pool or rec centre
  • Organize a neighbourhood game of soccer, ball hockey, scavenger hunt
  • Play Fitness Bingo (!)
  • Waive the fees at community fitness and rec centres
  • Take a free gym class (for example, GoodLife Fitness has teamed up with ParticipACTION to offer free access to gyms across the country on Saturday)

When it comes to longer term changes, experts recommend starting with small changes that incorporate activity into your daily life:

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  • Park your car further away your destination to get in some walking
  • Take the stairs rather than the elevator
  • Better yet, leave your car at home and walk or bike if you can
  • Set a reminder on your phone or computer that pushes you to stand up and walk around
  • Convert your work desk into a standing desk

READ MORE: 4 ways to get moving and combat sitting disease

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