Exercise your right to vote

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The big day.  Election day in Canada.  It’s time to walk, hike, roll, or dance your way to your local polling station to vote.  As you head there (I’m thrilled my polling station is halfway up Signal Hill so I can get in a bit of physical activity in on the way to vote), give some thought – in addition to all the other factors you are weighing – to which candidate would help get our nation more physically active.

In its recently released 2011 Report Card on Physical Activity and Youth, Active Healthy Kids Canada gave our nation a failing grade once again.  Only seven per cent of our children and youth get the recommended amount of physical activity per day (60 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous activity) they need to grow up healthy and physically literate.

Newfoundland and Labrador children took the least number of average steps per day in the country (though there was some increase from the 2005-07 numbers).

Active, unstructured fun

I’ve just returned from a climbing trip to Iceland and one of the most noticeable differences between here and there was the presence of children outdoors in all kinds of weather.  They were engaged in all sorts of active and unstructured play on sidewalks, on creative and colourful playground equipment, and at the local swimming pools found in every village.  I felt like I was transported to my own childhood where I couldn’t wait to get home from school and head for the local park where I stayed until five minutes before supper.

Canada is the only developed nation lacking a national physical activity strategy.

The average child in Canada gets only 14 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity in the critical after-school time period from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.  The Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card listed several recommendations for increasing physical activity after school: get kids outdoors, create effective school and community partnerships, foster youth leadership, and increase policy and investment support.

In conducting research for my own vote, I wanted to know which policies affecting physical activity rates were being proposed by the political parties.  I found my way to the Sport Matters website: It’s more than a game.  This voluntary group of more than 60 national and provincial sport and physical activity leaders has called for the creation of national physical activity strategy.  They state that Canada is the only developed nation lacking one.  They call for inclusion of the following in party platforms: investment in sport and physical activity, strengthening of all communities’ capacities for recreation and sport, and support for elite athletes.

Party platforms

As I poked around the ‘net, I found that the Green Party seems to get the connection between physical activity and community health.  Elizabeth May stated, “Keeping people healthy through promoting active living must be a key goal of our healthcare system. Reducing healthcare costs, reducing crime rates, and maintaining community strength all have links to physical fitness and sport.”

I discovered that the Conservatives have promised to double the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit.  The Liberals are committing to setting national targets for physical activity in schools and providing secure and stable funding for Sport Canada and the NDP have jumped in with a national strategy for serious injury reduction in amateur sport.

It is critical that we all get out and move every day.  I believe physical activity is the single most effective way to reduce health care costs in the long run and make life more fun.  Combine both today when you exercise your right to vote!