Canadians may be exercising a lot less than they believe, a recent study by Statistics Canada suggests.
The Canadian Health Measures Survey asked participants how much physical activity they think they get daily. StatCan researchers then got participants to wear an accelerometer, a device that measures physical activity.
The results were based on data collected between 2015 and 2016, from 2,372 adult respondents across Canada. Some Indigenous reserves, the territories, remote areas, institutions, and full-time Canadian Forces members, were not included.
The survey found that the measured amount of physical activity was far less than participants’ own descriptions. On average, they claimed to get 49 minutes of activity per day, while the devices found they got 23 minutes.
The physical activity included recreation, transportation, occupational or household activity.
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The survey noted that Canadians of all ages and body weights overestimated the amount of time they spent doing physical activity. However, less active people were more likely to report a “greater level of physical activity than measured by the accelerometer.”
Particularly concerning is the finding that, according to the devices, only 17 per cent of adults met the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of getting at least 150 minutes of “moderate-to-vigorous physical activity” per week.
In self-reported results, nearly half of Canadians met the 150-minute guideline.
Rachel C. Colley, a Statistics Canada researcher, explained to Global News that it’s important to note self-reported and accelerometer results can offer useful insights but they should not be used completely interchangeably.
Self-reported results are useful for more insight on the type of physical activity individuals are doing, while accelerometers provide more information on actual movements.
“There are three really concrete reasons why they don’t line up,” Colley said.
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The third reason for the discrepancy is that there was an “intensity issue,” Colley explained, noting that some people overstated how intense their physical activity was.
“A lot of it was still active, but it was called light activity. We got a lot of light-intensity activity mixed up with moderate activity.”
What exactly are the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines?
According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, adults between the ages of 18-64 should be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
The guidelines explain that moderate-intensity exercises include activities that make you sweat and breathe heavier. Brisk walking or bike riding are some examples.
More vigorous activities should leave you out of breath, and include jogging or cross-country skiing.
That should ideally be coupled with “muscle and both strengthening activities using major muscle groups” at least twice a week.
It notes that meeting these guidelines can cut the risk of several health problems such as premature death, heart disease and diabetes. Regular physical activity can also improve mental health, morale and self-esteem.
How do you know you’re getting enough exercise?
Kathleen Trotter, a Toronto-based fitness expert and author of upcoming book “Your Fittest Future Self,” explained that there needs to be more education around what constitutes exercise.
She noted that the findings of this survey aren’t necessarily surprising.
“We all tend to overestimate our health choices and underestimate our unhealthy choices,” she said.
Trotter explained that making more healthy choices — both about physical activity and nutrition — begin with being more aware of choices.
One helpful tip is tracking fitness decisions, noting down when you exercised and for how long.
“I really try to encourage a two- or three-day, as accurate as possible, food and activity log,” she explained.
“People will be like, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty active,’ but they are remembering their best days versus their normal days. It’s so much about what you do on a consistent basis.”
But Trotter cautioned against becoming obsessive about monitoring every decision. She suggested checking in and tracking activity every few weeks to stay on track.
“It’s all about being aware,” she said. “It’s not that you should be wearing Fitbits or tracking for the rest of your life — you don’t want to become overly compulsive about it either.”
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Trotter explained that there are simple ways of squeezing in more physical activity beyond going to the gym — anything from dancing in your living room to going for a swim.
“Start where you are, know where your end goal is, and gradually build up to it,” she said.