The provincial focus group tasked with identifying ways to increase physical activity in Saskatchewan says residents have a lot of enthusiasm for change, but there are still plenty of challenges ahead.
Focus group leaders made their first and only stop in Prince Albert for a pair of meetings on Tuesday. The goal was to gather information about child, youth and family physical activity levels, which will eventually be used to develop a Saskatchewan physical activity profile.
Dr. Oluwasegun Hassan, the project lead, said Canadians have changed over the years, and so have their physical activity habits. That means health experts need to look at different methods for getting residents out of their homes and into parks, playgrounds and outdoor recreation facilities.
“There are opportunities, but we have changing dynamics and cultural perceptions of physical activity,” Hassan said during a short break Tuesday morning. “That is why some of those opportunities may seem to not be used appropriately.”
Prince Albert was the group’s fifth stop on their tour, and while it’s still too early to draw any concrete conclusions, some common themes are starting to emerge. Enthusiasm is the biggest one. Focus group leaders say they’re seeing people who are not only concerned about physical activity levels, but also motivated to try and do something about it. The trick is to make sure those efforts get channeled in the right direction.
“The committed leadership and the commitment to working together, I think, is something that we often hear,” said Saskatchewan In Motion manager Marnie Forsberg, one of the focus group coordinators. “People want to work together, not necessarily just on their own or within their own organizations. There’s a real commitment to do collaborative work.”
That enthusiasm for partnerships and community building will likely be put to good use. Hassan said it’s easy to blame technology or cold weather for the lack of physical activity, but a lack of community is also a major concern. People don’t know their neighbours as well as they used to, he explained, and because they aren’t as connected to their community, they’re not involved in local events that include physical activity.
“The way we saw things a decade ago is not how we’re seeing it now,” Hassan said. “For example, we’re seeing situations where Canada is a multicultural society and there’s an increasing influx of immigrants, and the perspectives within society are slightly changing. We’re starting to see people in some cases having good connectedness (with their community) and in some other cases, we’re seeing people say ‘I don’t know this next person. I need to develop a better relationship within my community.’”
There have been some successes, so health officials and community groups have some positives to build on, and early results show plenty of enthusiasm for increasing physical activity options. However, Hassan said those options need to be well-organized and well-balanced.
There is a strong correlation between increased physical activity and improved mental and physical health. Physical activity helps reduce anxiety and depression while improving stress management.
“If we have more kids who are more active more often , we know that will lead to more happiness for those kids, more health, more joy, more confidence, independence and success,” Forsberg said.
The focus group plans to stop in three or four more Saskatchewan communities before the end of June before sharing their findings in late August or early September. The focus group’s next session will be in Meadow Lake on Thursday, Jan. 21.