The first Saturday of June is National Health and Fitness Month in Canada. It's but one day to remind us of something we already know, that health and fitness matter. So why is it important?
We are in a crisis - a health crisis. For some it’s outward and visible, for some it’s an inner battle, simmering in a pool of hopelessness. You've read the data, and it's in the news all the time. For example, a May 7th New York Times Opinion by Nicholas Kristof. He wrote that more than a quarter million Americans die from deaths of despair - drugs, alcohol and suicide. This may touch all of us. Last year, a friend of mine who is "highly successful", nearly died from a purposeful over-dosing on a prescription medication. He was comatose for weeks, but fortunately, has recovered and rued his actions, saying to me and I suspect others, "What was I thinking?".
Another challenge is obesity. While not all heavy people are unhealthy, many are. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 650 million adults worldwide are obese, more than triple the rate in 1975, and roughly another 1.3 billion are overweight. According to Health Canada the challenge is getting more significant, with the number of Canadians being overweight (or obese) increasing from 49% in 1978 to 64% in 2017. Health Canada notes that being overweight or obese is one of the top preventable risk factors for many chronic diseases including: Type 2 Diabetes; heart disease; and some cancers.
So why do I care? Have you, like me, cared for a person whose weight to strength ratio disabled them from being able to stand up without assistance (either a helping hand or prop, such as the chair armrest)? Or not have the flexibility to tie their own shoe laces? A couple of years ago, I saw a gentleman navigating through winter slush in slip on shoes. Was this because he couldn't put on and secure more appropriate shoes? How many seniors trip because their slip-on footwear doesn't provide adequate support, or because they catch a foot dragging on a change of surface? My dad, who died at 91 years of age in September 2021, fell in late 2000 wearing his inadequately supporting slip on shoes, and broke one of his hips. Sadly, he never really recovered, becoming more idle even as the hip healed.
Let me quote from VeryWell Health.
Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related deaths in adults over 65. It is estimated that around 300,000 hip fractures occur in the United States each year, mainly due to falls in older adults who are inherently vulnerable to broken hips. The impact is not only felt on an individual basis but on a population-based level. Hip fractures place a substantial economic strain on the U.S. healthcare system, accounting for roughly $5.96 billion per year in direct medical costs, based on a 2019 review of Medicare claims. According to a 2019 study in Acta Orthopaedica, the one-year mortality after a hip fracture is 21% for those whose fracture is surgically repaired. If the fracture is not surgically repaired, the one-year mortality is about 70%.
Again, going back to the Health Canada, a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and healthy eating is the best prevention and promotes healthy weight. Health Canada adds, "We all have a role to play in promoting healthier living".
So yes, let's raise awareness this coming Saturday June 3 to consider health and fitness. And let's raise awareness to take action personally and together.
One of the books I currently have on the go is Longevity by Dr. Peter Attia, a Canadian, now living in the US. Late in his residency following Stanford Medical School he changed direction, joining McKinsey the consulting firm. But Dr. Attia returned to medicine to apply the risk management approaches he learned as a consultant. In his book Longevity, Dr. Attia talks about four horsemen of chronic disease that impact health span (not the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse), and that modern medicine, as he calls it Medicine 2.0, has had success improving lifespans, but not necessarily health spans. He advocates for Medicine 3.0, focusing on prevention of chronic disease including Atherosclerotic disease, Cancer, Neurodegenerative disease, and “Foundational disease” by doing in effect what he calls prehab, not rehab.
So what are these personal actions? Number one, by far, is exercise including cardio, strength and balance. In mid September the 2016 Time Magazine cover story was The New Science of Exercise. The article featured Dr. Mark Tarnopolski of McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario and his research, concluding that exercise is the best medicine. But exercise alone is not enough. Dr. Attia adds four more pillars. Metabolic health (tightly tied with nutrition); sleep; emotional health; and drugs, supplements and/or hormones as individually recommended between physician and patient. Dr. Attia highlights that at medical school, there is generally scant attention to the first 4 (exercise, nutrition, sleep and emotional health)!
So please commit to being your healthy best, focusing on those first four, let’s call them lifestyle considerations. But what about collective action, through non-profits and public policy?
I feel like we build in poor health choices in our public policy. Here are but two examples:
- In Vancouver, our civic government is adopting plans for vastly more high-rise residential towers. Yet there is evidence that mental health declines with elevating residential floor levels, especially for young people. Not to mention, who takes the stairs to the 31st floor? Instead the City should consider broader low to mid rise density, offering developers square footage incentives for features that support health, such as inviting staircases, common areas, patios and also green landscaping. Some of the densest cities favour low to mid rises, for example, Paris, France.
- Children's sports or cultural events. Have you been a parent that drives your son or daughter an hour or more to events (and back) on a regular basis? I've done that for son's hockey and basketball. What's wrong with more local practice time (where all kids are active and developing skill) instead of a lot of car time every weekend? I'd say some weekends fine, but every weekend?
It's never too late to start on a health and fitness journey, and it's never too early to start. So this upcoming June 3, please celebrate National Health and Fitness Day. You can do it by being active and encouraging others in your life to do likewise and joining the National Health and Fitness challenge (see below).
Individually and collectively, let's be passionate about this and share on social media with hashtags like #officialCHFI #HealthyLiving #LetsMoveCanada #BougeonsCanada - and perhaps a #SierraSil mention, since we will be providing some prizes!
National Health and Fitness Day Challenge
Partnering with Strava, the Indigenous Physical Activity and Cultural Circle (IPACC) and the Canadian Health and Fitness Institute (CHFI) have created a collective challenge, where Canadians join forces to complete a single, large goal over 19 days from June 3 to June 21. By walking, jogging, canoeing, dancing and more — in the city, through nature or on the water — together Canadians will move a total of 243,042 hours from National Health and Fitness Day (June 3, 2023) to National Indigenous People’s Day (June 21, 2023). Why 243,042? It’s the length of Canada’s coastline! We have the longest coastline in the world and we want to make Canada the fittest nation in the world. The Lets Move Canada Challenge from Coast to Coast to Coast will bring together family, friends and community to contribute to this challenge in whatever way moves them. Take a picture and post it to Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag: #LetsMoveCanada, #BougeonsCanada. Register for the challenge on Strava starting May 27 (but you can also register after that too).