Why worry about fitness? 

For much of the world the message about physical activity is not getting out

Physical inactivity may not be at the top of the list of health concerns in Whistler but it is a growing world-wide epidemic in developed countries.

This epidemic was the topic at a recent four-day conference at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where almost 400 talking heads from around the world discussed new ways to combat this alarming trend.

"Here's the key – we know that physical inactivity is a huge public health problem in almost every developed country around the world. We are looking at the traditional messages to see why they didn't work," said Greg Anderson, one of the conference organizers with the University College of the Fraser Valley.

Most people are aware that exercise and health are directly related but many chose to ignore the importance of this connection.

One of the challenges at the conference was to discover why the traditional messages about exercising have been ignored or misunderstood by the general public.

Anderson said these old messages could be confusing at times.

"What is 'moderate' physical activity? The public doesn't have a clue what that is," said Anderson.

The word 'moderate' means different things to different people and therein lies the problem – defining moderate physical activity, he said.

"One of the challenges here is to come up with a definitive, consistent statement to the public," he added.

Another objective for the conference participants is to get a new message out to the public as quickly as possible and to make it especially pertinent to young people.

"There are lots of reasons why people have become less active... pressures in society have created a young population that doesn't value physical activity," said Anderson.

The key point is to target the kids who may be developing bad sedentary habits that will become harder to break as they get older.

"Learned behaviours at a young age are key and if we take away these opportunities (to educate them), then we're doomed to failure," he said.

The focus of healthy living has shifted significantly recently. In the past health officials have concentrated on the idea that people are eating too many calories. New studies suggest that people have not been eating more, rather they have been burning fewer calories due to certain lifestyle choices and habits.

And so, an obese person who is active can be healthier than a person of target weight who does not exercise at all.

Therefore the public health messages must shift and readjust to address these new findings.

Health Canada and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control hosted the conference that was organized by ParticipACTION. It provided a forum for people from 22 countries to come together and share innovative ideas.

"We have the people here that might be able to help and have the potential to influence policy," said Anderson.

And the Whistler venue was an added bonus.

Dr. Paul Martiquet, the medical health officer for Coast Garibaldi Health who was attending the conference, is a watchdog for all health matters affecting the Corridor. While Whistler has its share of various health issues, physical inactivity in not a major concern here, he said.

"Whistler is the perfect place to host the conference. This is by far and above a community that is physically active because of the access to physical activity venues," he said.

Anderson agrees that it was particularly pertinent to have the conference in Whistler, a town which promotes and fosters healthy living.

"The Valley Trail is an amazing coup for a village like this. It's very good incentive to get people active," he said.

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