This morning’s Globe and Mail editorial response to the decision to change Canada’s fitness guidelines, lowering them from an-hour-a-day to 150 minutes of moving – which works out to 30 minutes-a-day, five days a week – in line with World Health Organization standards. In line with wisdom about changing health behaviour, it sets a more achievable standard, something that people think they can do, rather than an ideal that most people believe to be beyond their reach. It emphasizes the idea of fitness rather than fatness (although both are important) and cites studies that show fit people who are overweight are at lower risk of illness than unfit people who are overweight. Focusing on fitness helps avoid reinforcing body image and beauty standards.
The idea of ‘moving’ rather than needing to follow a complete training plan put together by someone in the know also helps make fitness attainable: jumping jacks for five minutes six times a day or three ten minute speed walks [to grab coffee, or back and forth from your car parked on the far end of the parking lot]. Margaret Wente’s critique of Village on a Diet, a TV profile of Taylor, BC’s efforts to collectively to lose one ton of weight, echoes some of these ideas.
There’s a time and a place for high standards – but ‘high’ and ‘unachievable’ are not the same thing. For the 24% of obese Canadians and 37% of overweight Canadians, making moving and healthy eating the first goal, and weight loss will be an inevitable outcome. For those in public health, urban planning, community services, nutrition, and a hundred other professions: design healthy cities physically and socially that make healthy eating and lots of moving easy and accessible rather than giant paved parking lots and McDonald’s.