Guidelines to demand more intensity from Canadians

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By Jason Winders
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The minutes may be down, but the demands on intensity are way, way up. And that’s the point Donald Paterson wants you to understand.
 
On Monday, Jan. 24, the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, Canada’s fitness research governing body, will release an updated version of the Canadian Physical Guidelines for children, adults and older people. The guidelines describe the amount and types of physical activity that offer substantial health benefits.
 
Among the recommendations, the guidelines will suggest 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for children, 150 minutes per week for adults and seniors.
Paterson, a School of Kinesiology professor and Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging research director, knows those numbers will raise some eyebrows.
 
On the surface, the guidelines appear to require less sweat from Canadians. The old guidelines, released in 1998, 1999 and 2002 for the various age categories, suggested 90 minutes per day for children, 30-60 minutes per day for adults and seniors. Recent media attention, based on an early talking points memo release, has focused on this perceived reduction in requirements.
 
“The big discussion from the public, from the press will be on how the guidelines have changed since the previous one,” says Paterson, who has been actively engaged in the crafting of the guidelines since the beginning. “As you might have seen in the newspapers, on the CBC, even on Rick Mercer, the guidelines on initial reading of the report, which the press doesn’t have yet, seem to say you can do less.”
 
Some reports have quoted officials saying the numbers were adjusted because they were too difficult for Canadians to meet. Not true, Paterson says, explaining no behavioural modifications were made to the guidelines.
 
The difference between the new and old guidelines, Paterson stresses, is in the level of activity.
 
“The important thing that will be missed is we’ve really noted the intensity you have to do it,” he says. “That’s the change that will be missed.”
 
In the earlier guidelines, smaller, daily activities counted toward the daily recommendations.
 
Paterson, however, cites research that says expending a lot of energy at little things during the day doesn’t reduce risk. So forget taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking around the mall, you’re going to need more aerobic activity, a sustained, rigorous workout, to meet these guidelines.
 
This change counters the ‘active living’ push of recent years.
 
“You can’t get fit by being more ‘active’ in the day. You have to be above a certain intensity, work a little harder,” he says. “As it works out for children, youth and adults, being active throughout the day might help in a little way, but to get major reductions they need intensity.”
 
Another area of potential controversy, the guidelines take issue with flexibility exercises, discounting them from the minute requirements. “There are no known health benefits to doing flexibility. Even in the sport world, when they analyzed it, it doesn’t prevent injury.  …  It’s really just a rehab thing,” he says.
 
Given the popularity of yoga in Canada, Paterson is bracing for reaction. “We will get slammed on not including yoga,” he says. “Yoga may get mentioned as a potential balance activity. … (The guidelines) are not saying anywhere don’t do flexibility exercises that they’re not good for you. It’s just there’re not in the 150 minutes or part of strength and balance.”
 
Despite the minor controversies, everyone agrees something needs to be done.
 
“Canada has been a real leader in these guidelines for activity,” Paterson says.
 
Research shows Canadian children 5-17 years old are not active enough to stay healthy. They are, on average, heavier, fatter, rounder, weaker and less flexible than they were in 1981. Currently, only 31 per cent of children are active for 60 minutes per day. Approximately 31 per cent of Canadian boys and 25 per cent of Canadian girls are overweight or obese.
 
The 2011 edition brings Canada into line with the World Health Organization, which references an article authored by Paterson, as well as countries like the United States, Australia and Britain.
 
“More is better. And harder is better.” Paterson says of the recommendations. “It is intensity. It is not active living. It is intensity.”
 

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