Cooler weather shouldn't mean less activity

Autumn is right around the corner, which means shorter days, cooler temperatures and, for some of us, less time spent outdoors.

However, that doesn't have to mean less physical activity.

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The busy fall and winter months are the hardest time for many families to get motivated to maintain an active lifestyle. But regular exercise, combined with a well-balanced diet, is a habit that needs to be followed year-round for Canadians of all ages to maintain good health.

This is especially important in today's society, where changes in work and leisure are affecting Canadians' activity and eating patterns. A shift towards less physical work, and more passive leisure activities such as TV viewing and video games, is creating a more sedentary society. It's also becoming more challenging for Canadians to maintain a healthy weight as a result of larger portion sizes and greater availability of unhealthy food choices.

According to Health Canada, this lack of exercise and poor eating habits have led to increased rates of overweight and obesity in Canada, among all age groups.

About 30 per cent of children and youth in Canada are either overweight or obese today, up from 15 per cent in 1978. Statistics show that obese children have an 80 per cent or higher probability of becoming obese adults. Adults who have unhealthy weights are at increased risk of heart disease, cancers, strokes and type 2 diabetes.

Eating right and being physically active is not only important for reducing the risk of obesity and of future health problems, but these habits are also essential for staying happy and thinking clearly. We know that physically active children and those who eat well do better in school and are generally more content.

The key to good health at any age is developing and maintaining good habits, and sticking to them. The good news is that adopting healthy habits doesn't cost money and there are resources across the province to help families develop a healthy lifestyle.

MEND (which stands for Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do it!) is a free local, 10-week program that gives families the tips and tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a healthy weight. It's aimed at children ages five to 13 and their parents or caregivers.

MEND is funded by the Province of BC and supports Healthy Families BC, the government's public health strategy that focuses on leadership, prevention and health improvement for B.C. families and their communities.

The BCRPA has been offering the MEND program through participating municipal recreation centres providing families with the ability to experience how small changes in physical activity, healthy eating and lifestyle choices can make a significant difference. It's also available at some YMCAs. The YMCA provides programs that help children and families reach their potential by instilling fun and healthy lifelong habits.

Almost 400 children and their parents or caregivers have participated or registered in BC's MEND programs to date. MEND is currently registering new participants for September and October in 16 sites across British Columbia, including Prince George.

Are you worried about your child's weight? (One in three children are above a healthy weight). Does your child get less than one hour of active play each day? Want to know how to help your child get healthier? Call or email to find out if MEND is right for your family. Visit bchealthykids.ca for more information on the MEND program in Prince George and to find out if the program is right for your family.

Shapedown BC is another proven program that is available for children whose families may require a more comprehensive approach in working towards a healthy weight. A multi-disciplinary team provides physical, psychosocial and medical support to help families achieve their healthy living goals.

Shapedown BC is provided in Vancouver at BC Children's Hospital, Island Health in Nanaimo, Interior Health in Kamloops, Northern Health in Prince George and Fraser Health in Surrey. It's also been adapted for the Chinese community and is now available in Mandarin through Vancouver Coastal Health. A physician referral is required.

All parents want their children to live a healthy lifestyle in order to grow up strong and confident. Recent studies have also shown that healthy children do better in school. MEND and ShapedownBC empower families and children to have fun, be healthy and get active.

Dr. Tom Warshawski is a pediatrician and Chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, which is one of the partners behind MEND and ShapedownBC, alongside the Province of British Columbia, BC Recreation and Parks Association and the YMCA of Greater Vancouver.

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