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National Health and Fitness Day just one more legacy of 2010 Olympic Games

Bill is the product of years of work by Senator Raine, MP Weston
Teamwork From left: Elio Antunes, CEO of ParticipACTION; Senator Nancy Greene Raine; MP John Weston; Mayor of Chelsea Caryl Green and Landon French, executive director of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities celebrate the new law. Photo Submitted

One summer before the 2010 Olympics came to Whistler, Senator Nancy Greene Raine and Member of Parliament John Weston were talking about what kind of legacy they'd like to see the Games leave.

"We were just chatting about, if we were going to measure the 2010 Olympics, and were they successful or not, what would we measure?" Raine recalled.

"Would it be the number of medals Canada won? Would it be running a successful event without a hitch?

"In the end, we came to the conclusion that it would have really been worth it if we inspired Canadians to take a more active role themselves, (and) in their own personal lifestyle."

It was from that conversation that the idea for National Health and Fitness Day (NHFD) was born.

"The concept from all of this was born very much in the run up to the 2010 Games," Weston said.

"As an MP I was saying to the people of our riding, '"What can we do to keep alive this amazing spirit, and translate it from an extravaganza with a focus on elite athletes to something that would touch all Canadians in an enduring way?'"

On Dec. 10, parliamentarians across all parties voted unanimously to pass Bill S-211, an act to establish the first Saturday in June as National Health and Fitness Day.

"It started with this notion that we Canadians are healthy, but we can do so much better," Weston said.

"Our participation rates outside Whistler... are very poor, with less than seven per cent of our children getting even six hours a week of physical exercise, and we see that a third of our youth are obese or overweight, and our declines in health concerning diabetes and cardiovascular problems reflect that."

Canada is spending $7 billion annually treating conditions related to inactivity, Weston said, and NHFD aims to reverse that trend.

It will be up to individual communities to decide how they want to recognize the day each year, Weston added.

"Each community has its own character, its own resources and its own appetite for these things," he said, adding that NHFD events could be as simple as organized yoga, or free use of local recreational facilities.

Raine said she's excited to see what kind of events NHFD inspires.

"I think I'd like to see, 10 years from now, every municipality across the country organizing runs, and walks, and cycles and festivals, and throwing open their facilities and promoting more programs and more participation," she said.

"Not just at the competitive sport level, but at the personal level, and really trying to inspire people to get out and enjoy the feeling of activity."

Inactivity is not a problem for most who live in Whistler, Raine said, but the problem is noticeable in other areas of the country.

"When you start looking at the stats and how it's changing, you start to appreciate the depth of the problem across the country," she said, adding that many urban cities are actually doing quite well in terms of having an active population.

"But in smaller communities and rural communities, more and more people are just getting in the car and then coming home and then either watching TV or Netflix or the computer... just more and more sedentary activities, especially kids."

Raine credited Weston with being "stubborn and dogged" in pursuit of getting the NHFD bill passed.

"It's been a real pleasure to work with John Weston. He's amazing," she said, adding that Weston has even taken his message of staying active to the House of Commons, and his fellow Members of Parliament.

"(It's) called the Parliamentary Fitness Initiative, where we get MPs and senators to be more involved in active exercise," Weston explained.

"They run on a Tuesday morning, they swim on a Thursday, and this is not only for their own health, but it's to act as role models for all Canadians."

Weston said Whistler has served as a great inspiration for him over the years.

"I'm a landowner at Whistler and somebody whose family has absorbed the great things that Whistler has to teach the nation on activity and healthy living," he said.

"I consider this a gift from our riding to the rest of Canada, perfectly timed for Christmas and the New Year, as people start thinking about their New Year's resolutions, they now have a day to look forward to where we can all celebrate physical activity, and educate ourselves and encourage our friends and communities to be more active. It's good for ourselves, it's good for our families, it's good for our country."