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Fitness ranks low for Canadian youth

NOBLETON, Ont. — Fitness doesn’t have to cost a lot and can be as easy as parking the car farther away from the grocery store.

Shyanne Spilchen, the director of Fitness 4 Youth, said regular physical activity needs to become routine.

“People see exercise as a chore instead of a lifestyle,” said Spilchen, who provides fitness and leadership in the Toronto region.

In a session at the National 4-H Members Forum held near Nobleton, Ont., in November, she said exercise benefits include weight control, disease prevention, muscle strengthening, improved mental health, injury and falls prevention, better sleep and increased concentration.

4-Hers suggested physical activities from their own lives such as daily farm chores, freestyle dance, horseback riding and shovelling snow.

“Physical activity and fitness is active activity. As long as the body is moving, really that’s what the goal is,” said Spilchen, who conceded that youth on farms are likely more active than city kids.

She said cellphones and computers are part of a child’s life today, a change from her own childhood.

“When I was a kid, I was on the street playing,” Spilchen said.

Their timetables may be full with school and extracurricular activities, but these activities are not necessarily active ones.

She said busy lives also lead to unhealthy food choices that can contribute to being overweight.

Spilchen said rising obesity rates are related to income levels with lower income families finding less time and money to enroll children in sports and provide nutritious meals due to limited budgets.

Busy families also often reach for what’s easy and convenient, such as fast food.

Middle to upper class families and baby boomers tend to be more active, she said.

Spilchen, who said weight and mental health issues in her own family are behind her career choice, sees physical activity as a way to reduce anxiety and control weight.

“It makes you feel great from the inside out,” she said.

“You start with the inside and be comfortable with how you feel and then outside will start to change.”

Spilchen praised 4-H for addressing fitness at the forum and suggested that similar sessions provided more frequently is one way to bring about change.

“If we all work together, I believe children will be more active,” said Spilchen.

Canadian kids scored a D- for their fitness levels in the annual ParticipAction report card, released in June.

It reported that only nine percent of five to 17 year olds get the recommended 60 minutes of cardio activity each day.

The group, which released another study Nov. 16 that compared Canada with 37 other countries, ranked Canada near the bottom along with Australia, England, Spain and the United States.

Too much screen time and not enough free play time were blamed.

Twenty-six countries earned a D or worse. Belgium, Chile, China, Qatar and Scotland received an F.

More developed countries tended to grade lower than less developed countries.

Canada received top marks in community and environment and scored Bs for organized sports and school, but Canadian kids scored an F for sedentary behaviour.

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