Why are so few of us getting enough exercise?

The good news is that it’s never too late to turn your life around or to discover the benefits of a good diet and plenty of exercise

You won’t have to trawl very many specialist journals, or news reports to discover that we, as a global nation, are unhealthier than we’ve been in a long time. While it’s undoubtedly true that the residents of many high-, middle-, and low-income countries, including Canada, are experiencing higher life expectancies than previous generations we are not all doing so to the advantage of our health. According to the World Health Organizations World Report on Aging and Health, there’s still a long way to go before we can say we’re enjoying our lives to the fullest.

So, where are we going wrong?

Although many of us understand the benefits of a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle, few of us are putting this comprehension into practice. The answer is right in front of us; we’re just not getting enough exercise, or making the most of the ingredients that are available to us.

The statistics

According to one study published last summer Canadians take fewer steps, on average, than many other global citizens manage per day. Commissioned by Nature, the international journal of science, the study revealed that Canadians are among the worst offenders for leading sedentary lifestyles – behind the likes of Hong Kong, the UK, Ukraine, and China. Meanwhile, our young people are following that trend, with just 33% of children in Canada completing the recommended 60-minutes of exercise per day. The University of British Columbia has already noticed that teenagers’ bones are becoming weaker, and more prone to breakages; missing out on physical activity, which stimulates bone growth and strengthening between the ages of 10 and 16 years, teenagers are, quite literally, growing lazy bones.

So, what’s our excuse? The Heart and Stroke Foundation found that many Canadians believe that they just don’t have the time to exercise. When asked during an online survey a resounding number of people agreed that they couldn’t afford to take time away from work, chores, or household responsibilities to enjoy physical activity. We’re busier than ever, but doing so little with our time. Workplace stress, social media, and an addiction to technology have also become detrimental to our health; whether you’re checking emails, catching up with friends, or mastering the latest free browser games, you’re definitely not putting your muscles and joints to their best use. Meanwhile, children and teenagers are increasingly seeking solace in TV shows, tablet devices, and video games rather than the wild outdoors – as we would have done at their age. Things need to change, but where should we start?

It’s time to get out and about

It really couldn’t be easier to get out there and get active; regardless of your age, ability, or gender, there’s a sporting activity or exercise that will inspire and encourage you to be the very best version of yourself. Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to putting exercise to the back of your mind. These tips should help you to change all of that.

Getting started

Let’s get this out there; you don’t need to be a professional athlete to make the most of your physical health. Walking more, cycling, or breaking into a gentle jog every now and again could do wonders for your health and well-being. Choose an exercise you’re likely to keep up, such as a fitness class with friends or a promise to walk your dog longer and further; every big change starts with a myriad of smaller ones. It’s also important to choose the right equipment and clothing for any given activity. Compression clothing, which can be sourced at any sporting shop or online retailer, provides support and comfort to those just beginning their fitness journey. The better you feel while working out, the more likely you’ll be to keep it up beyond the New Year.

Involve the whole family

Children learn by example, and so introducing your whole family to a varied program of exercise is one of the best ways to combat inactivity across the ages. Make exercising fun by incorporating games and sporting activities into the daily routine; rather than driving to school walk or cycle shorter routes, and stop at the park on your way home to allow little ones to let off steam. Backyard Olympics, during which children play for points and prizes, is sure to get family members involved in some rigorous activity. Weekends were made for exercise. If you have a dog to walk, plan varied, exciting routes across the countryside and national parks. Also, consider the adventure you could have beside a lake, or in a caving system. Adventure, imagination, and exercise go hand in hand.

Incorporate exercise into your daily routine

One of the biggest excuses for inactivity is a hectic lifestyle; many of those participating in the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s survey cited long working hours and hectic schedules as a reason not to take some form of physical activity. It would appear we’re simply too busy to take care of our own health. However, there are plenty of ways you could incorporate a little exercise into your daily routine without compromising your work. Rather than driving into the office walk or cycle, or alight the bus or metro several stops early. Ignore the elevator in favor of the stairs; take to walking during your lunch break rather than checking social media. Activities such as running, swimming, and attending the gym can be done before or after work, while something as seemingly innocuous as dancing could be enjoyed as you complete the housework or make phone calls. Getting enough exercise means prioritizing your health wherever possible; we’re all capable of making allowances for that.

Make it a social occasion

As an older person, it can be tempting to forgo exercise in favor of staying inside. Perhaps you find it difficult to navigate the city by yourself, or have seen your friendship group dwindle in recent years due to illness, retirement, or relocation. Exercise is of the utmost importance to those of a certain age, supporting physical strength, emotional well-being, and mental health. Precious time spent indulging in a yoga class, walking and talking in a local park, or enjoying a light aerobics class could help to keep your brain sharp and your joints supple – not to mention widening your social circle and introducing all manner of new friends and acquaintances. Check out the noticeboards in your local churches and community centers; many operate exercise classes and social groups for those over 50 years of age. Encourage your friends and younger family members to join you for a walk once a week. Well, you might as well improve the health of those around you while you’re at it.

Above all, be ready to hold yourself accountable. Getting enough exercise is down to you, and you alone. The New Year has barely begun, providing plenty of opportunities to see in those changes. Things must change if Canada is to fare better in future surveys and step challenges. According to The Lancet, some 5.2-million deaths per year can be attributed to inactivity and the many health complications and conditions that accompany a sedentary lifestyle. From obesity, heart disease, and strokes, to cancer, diabetes, and mental health issues there are numerous, alarming diagnoses that can be associated to the lifestyles we’re currently leading – and guiding our children into. The good news is that it’s never too late to turn your life around or to discover the benefits of a good diet and plenty of exercise. How you tackle the issue is up to you; just be sure to involve your whole family in this exciting new adventure.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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