Free program hopes to improve men’s fitness

The Art Hauser Centre. City of Prince Albert photo.

A program coming to Prince Albert is betting that the best way to get men involved in living a healthier lifestyle is with a carrot, not a stick.

Hockey Fans in Training (Hockey FIT) is a three-month, off-ice healthy lifestyle program for men who are overweight or obese and fans of their local hockey team. In this case, the Prince Albert Raiders.

The program was piloted in Ontario with the London Knights and Sarnia Sting and has since expanded across Canada. It’s free of charge, run as a research project by Western University and has funding support from the federal government and the Movember Foundation.

It’s partnered with the Raiders and is looking for hockey fans willing to take part.

“Hockey FIT is a healthy lifestyle program designed for men who are 35 to 65 and looking to improve their health,” explained Brendan Riggin, the head coach for the program.

As head coach, Riggin, a scientist in the Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, works with the Lifestyle Research Team and the local Hockey FIT program to train local staff and implement the program.

The program runs once a week for 12 weeks. Each session lasts for 90 minutes. Nine of the sessions take place at a fitness facility and three at the host hockey team’s facility. The fitness facility in Prince Albert is the CBI Health Centre.

“During those sessions, we go over some healthy lifestyle tips. This is not a diet — it’s not like we tell them that they can’t have certain foods or restrict anything, we just try to give them some very management and small changes that they can make to their lifestyle that can have positive improvement son their health.”

The program also introduces physical activity, starting off at a low level to get everyone going.

“We do accommodate all sorts of backgrounds, whether it’s previous medical conditions or injuries, anything like that, and we slowly build up their physical activity over the 12 weeks,” Riggin said.

Outside of the sessions, they get participants to take steps and monitor how many they’re taking per day. They also build that number up over the 12 weeks to gradually increase it from where the participants begin.

Holding three of the sessions at the arena is a way to help keep the participants engaged.

“That’s what makes our program a little bit different than some of the more traditional healthy lifestyle programs,” Riggin said.

“We host some of the sessions at the arena where the guys get a chance to see the dressing room and meet some of the players.“

They also try to get some coaches and trainers from the major-junior teams out.

“That’s really the hook to not only get guys to participate in the first place but to get them to continue attending each of the 12 sessions.”

Riggin said the Hockey FIT team’s research has found that it’s difficult to engage men in healthy lifestyle programs.

“Often they don’t go to see their family doctor until it’s too late or until they know someone else who’s had a bit of a health scare,” he said.

“Unfortunately, that costs the Canadian health care system quite a bit of money.”

The estimated cost is bout $37 billion annually. The idea is to take a preventative approach to alleviate some of those costs. One of the ways they’ve been able to do that is to partner with local hockey teams.

“Often these guys are big fans of teams like the Raiders. They really find that the program is designed for guys just like them.”

Riggin said the program is “gender sensitized” meaning the content and style of delivery is all tailored for their target market, and for fans of the team. It allows them to discuss the game and chat with other fans while also getting healthier with small and manageable healthy lifestyle tips Riggin says are sustainable for the long-term.

So far, the program has found success. Their first goal was to get people to sign up. So many signed up during the pilot project that they had to put some on a waitlist.

Then, they wanted to see if the program worked.

“It had to be simple, not too restrictive. It can’t be too time-intensive either. It was successful in helping to improve men’s health.”

Riggin said they found that the participants lost about 10 pounds over the 12 weeks. When they followed up a year later, many were able to maintain that weight loss.

“We think because we stressed making small and manageable changes to our lifestyle, it’s a much more sustainable approach as opposed to restricting certain foods. We all saw positive health outcomes.”

In addition to the weight loss, the pilot participants kept their step count up and lost about 12 mm mercury of their blood pressure, which Riggin said is equal to about two different medications.

“From a health research perspective, we’re trying to look at ways of getting guys to be healthy without necessarily relying on those medications because that would be helpful to our health care system,” Riggin said.

Right now, Riggin and his team are looking for Prince Albert men who might be interested in trying the program out. It’s free. Registration can be found at hockeyfansintraining.org. People can also call Riggin at 519-661-2111 ext. 22124.

For now, the research study and lifestyle program are only open to men, but the researchers hope to expand it in the future to create a course for women as well.

“This pilot study was funded by the Movember Foundation, so this program was focusing on men’s health because that’s what the priority is of that organization,” Riggin said.

“We are actively trying to adapt the program to offer a female version and look forward to being able to offer that in the future.”