Canadian adults who play sport are healthier than less active peers

Canadian adults who participate in family or recreational sports are physically, mentally and socially healthier than their less active counterparts, according to a study released Friday by ParticipAction, a Toronto-based nonprofit group that promotes physical activity for all ages.

About 72 percent of active adults said they felt physically fit as compared with 62 percent of adults who didn’t regularly participate in sports or physical activities, according to the report. Among those who participated, 56 percent said they feel mentally active and 64 percent said they are socially active.

The results of the report, Healthy in Sport Canada, highlighted increased awareness of physical activity as an essential part of school and community school curriculum, and the need for home and community programs to expand opportunities for participation in team sports. ParticipAction’s study found that one in two Canadian adults spends at least six hours a week playing video games.

The study found differences between how Canadian men and women participated in exercise, with men being less physically active than women. Men also reported fewer concerns about physical activity, spending more time outside and more time playing team sports.

“This report shows that we have a very healthy population, as far as physical activity, of Canadians,” said Lucie Bruch, an exercise science professor and director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Research Laboratory at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “But it’s really about applying that health to your daily activities and your psychological and social well-being. It’s really about not just physical activity, but focusing on yourself as a whole person.”

Olivia Nielsen, a spokeswoman for ParticipAction, said the organization was pleased that Canadians are sticking to their regular exercise schedules despite a decade-long economic downturn that resulted in fewer gym memberships, walking tracks and fitness equipment.

“We’re actually seeing a lot of activity” said Nielsen, who noted that about half of Canada’s 40 million people actively participate in sports or physical activities.

While the study found no significant differences between genders, there were some differences in how the average person viewed exercise. Women were more likely to say they are physically fit but less likely to say they are physically active. Men were more likely to say they are physically fit but less likely to say they are physically active.

“Sport really does make a huge difference,” Bruch said. “It’s good for you and also makes you feel good about yourself and can do a lot for the social life as well.”

But more needs to be done, including including and encouraging more active children in their respective family routines, said Krua Boon Sase, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan who studied children’s participation in sport.

“Society should focus on supporting children at school, with active physical education, and society should encourage kids to participate and push them to do it,” said Sase, who developed guidelines for exercise to combat obesity for the World Health Organization and the World Federation of Paediatric Societies.

According to the Canadian Association for Sport and Physical Education, children’s physical activity is still lacking. The report from the organization, which advocates for physical fitness among schoolchildren, showed that children and adolescents in Ontario spend less than six hours per week playing noncontact physical activity.

According to the report, too many Canadian kids do not get an acceptable number of hours of physical activity. About 7 percent of Ontario students have no access to a running track in their schools, and just 6 percent reported participating in a sport or physical activity once a week or more.

Some health experts said the lack of support for children in general is linked to falling participation in sports. One reason for that, Bruch said, is schools used to require physical education classes.

“And there are programs out there to get the kids back to that,” Bruch said. “But that’s the time we got out of as a country.”

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