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Making healthy resolutions stick

What the latest research suggests
December 16, 2014
By Marion Lowe

“Many people have chosen more exercise and better nutrition as a New Year’s resolution.” Marion Lowe: “Many people have chosen more exercise and better nutrition as a New Year’s resolution.” | Photo by Mike Fleming (Flickr Creative Commons)

As manager of Clinical Exercise Programs at the PERFORM Centre, Marion Lowe and her team draw on the latest research and best practices in their field. Lowe shares some of that knowledge to provide insight on what it takes to succeed at the ever-popular New Year's fitness resolutions.

"Thousands of Canadians have made the decision to live a healthier lifestyle in 2015. The fact that so many people have chosen more exercise and better nutrition as a New Year’s resolution is a good thing. If done right, this combination can have innumerable positive effects on our physical and emotional well-being as well as on our careers and social lives.

A high percentage of people, however, will fail to make the changes needed to improve their overall health. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 53.2 per cent of Canadians considered themselves to be moderately active. Meanwhile, obesity levels in this country have reached critical levels. Government figures show that inactivity costs Canadian taxpayers an estimated $6.8 billion per year.

Why is it that, despite our best intentions, so many of us can’t follow through on something we know is so important to our quality of life? The answer is complex, but speaks to the need to provide Canadians with increased support, knowledge and research in this domain.

Marion Lowe is the manager of Clinical Exercise Programs at the PERFORM Centre Marion Lowe is the manager of Clinical Exercise Programs at the PERFORM Centre. | Photo by Concordia University

Many of those who have chosen to get fit and eat right this year will be looking to technology as a potential solution. Indeed, products such as Fitbit and Garmin which wirelessly monitor activity and provide data on metrics such as steps taken in a day and sleep patterns are exploding in popularity. Developers are also releasing fitness related apps at an unprecedented level and these will only increase as data collection technologies become more refined and less expensive to produce.

However, collecting heart rate and cholesterol data means nothing if lifestyle and behaviour change are not addressed as part of the package. Without integrate coaching/mentoring — whether online or in person — these virtual technologies will eventually become as useless as the exercise bikes and treadmills collecting dust in basements across Canada.

Moving forward, we need increased research in how behaviour affects lifestyle decisions — and this information needs to be integrated into new technologies. We all know that eating junk food, smoking and living a sedentary lifestyle leads to the early onset of chronic disease such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, pulmonary disease and cancer. So why do we continue to engage in such unhealthy activities?

Understanding behaviour is a key issue that academia, health-care institutions and government must continually address. Beyond funding research in areas that directly relate to the physiology of health and well-being — such as exercise science and nutrition — we must also bring into the mix disciplines like psychology, communications and health economics. A more interdisciplinary look will help us better understand the complex nature of human behaviour and will lead to broader strategies for dealing with health and lifestyle issues.

We also have to deal with information overload when it comes to exercise and nutrition. It seems as though each week we are inundated with the results of new studies with sometimes contradictory messages. The net result of such a bombardment is that people are on their own to sort through complex data on health and wellness.

We need to advance the way information is delivered and consumed by actively reaching out to schools, workplaces and community centres. This means arming those working in the field of health promotion with appropriate, safe and effective approaches to physical activity and nutrition, and equipping the public with tangible ways of putting this knowledge to work.

Using technology to monitor behaviour and provide feedback to those seeking healthier lifestyles is here to stay. What this will look like in the future will be interesting to see as apps become more sophisticated and tuned into behaviour change.

People are more aware than ever that they must take concrete steps to improve their health. Canadians need the proper support to translate their desire to lead healthier lives into effective, results-based action."

Marion Lowe is the manager of Clinical Exercise Programs at the PERFORM Centre. She can be reached at 514-848-2424, ext. 4188, or via email at (not available Dec. 26, 27.)

Thumbnail by Jeanette Goodrich (Flickr Creative Commons.)


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