Health: Get Out and Have Fun!

by Marcelo Paolinelli

Canadian journalist and novelist Pierre Berton famously said that "a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe without tipping it."

Well, you don’t need to light candles at the bow and stern of a boat while filling your camp mugs with wine to prove your Canadian identity. Yet, what we could do is take advantage of some of the wonderful natural resources we find from coast to coast in this beautiful country by doing some outdoor activities. Although the Public Health Agency of Canada shows us a not so romantic statistic that 63 percent of Canadians are not active enough to achieve the health benefits they need from physical activity, it seems that Canada is definitely a sports-friendly country.

Summer is finally here. So, if lately you’ve been more of a couch potato, this is the perfect time to think about getting closer to Mother Nature and doing something healthy – like exercise.

"Canadians love the outdoors, and because we have a short hot season, we spend weekends, evenings, and vacation outdoors," says Michael Anthony, a 50 year old fundraising professional. He lists a bunch of fun activities associated with the warm weather: canoeing, boating, water skiing, kayaking, hiking, rock-climbing, cycling, rollerblading, and jogging. Michael also points to the possibility of surfing in both B.C. and the east coast, and explains that there is fantastic white-water rafting near Ottawa. "And you can go swimming in wonderful fresh water, exploring national parks on foot, canoe, or cycle." Wow! Originally from Toronto but now living in Calgary, Alberta, Real State Developer Michael Smele lists canoeing and camping as his favourite summertime activities. "I used to do at least one trip a year to one of the provincial parks in Ontario where I would go on a four or five day trip into the middle of nowhere.

Since moving west I have taken up a few new sports that have been quite enjoyable, namely snowboarding and skateboarding."

Smele explains that because of the proximity to the Rocky Mountains, a lot of people ski and snowboard during the winter and hike in the mountains throughout the summer. Other popular outdoor sports in Canada, he explains, are hockey and lacrosse.

He thinks that Canadians identify themselves as ‘the people from the north’and therefore take pride in certain sports such as hockey and curling, sports that are not routinely played in other countries. "But we view it as our national duty to be the best at these sports," even though, Smele adds, 99 percent of Canadians scream and cheer at the TV, but can’t play well enough to save their lives.

Skateboarding is also a new passion for 38 year old carpenter Rene Hugenneyer, who replaced waves with asphalt. "I came from Brazil, where I still go for surfing. Here in Toronto, I was looking for something similar to do. And I found that the skate long board can approximate almost the same movements of a surfboard."

Rene says that skateboarding is a relatively inexpensive sport. "You can buy a board for $150 to $400 and the maintenance doesn’t cost much." Another advantage is that the sport has become much more popular and is a good way to socialize. He usually goes to a skate park close to Brampton and also practices at the Beaches, but it can be done almost anywhere. There are many outdoor sports in urban settings, adds Michael Anthony. "Even within the urban environment, one can rent a kayak or canoe at the lakefront in Toronto for $30 an hour."

Anthony believes that more and more Canadians want to lead long and active lifestyles. "With a growing focus on maintaining youth and incentives to keep healthy, more people are taking advantage of programs, at the office (Wellness Programs), at school or in their communities (YMCA and other community centres)." He sees community centres as the easiest and most accessible places to familiarize oneself with the Canadian environment. "Team sports can be a great way for newcomers to socialize and learn about Canadian culture. This is not age-specific. Centres for seniors encourage active living programs in a number of languages, or in English, if you want to brush up your English skills!"

Michael Smele agrees that sports or outdoor activities are great for both health and meeting new people. "I would suggest that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. If a newcomer really enjoys playing soccer, then go and play soccer to meet people and stay active." He thinks it’s also a good idea to try something that you maybe haven’t tried before. "I just started snowboarding this year and it was extremely frustrating and somewhat painful at first, but like anything, you get much better after doing it a few times."

Smele sees soccer as the next up and coming sport in Canada. "Toronto has a football club, which still has incredible support, and Montreal is also in discussions to possibly get a team. I have heard that people who are interested in cricket can find places to play. In the larger urban centers, where there are more people coming from different places, it is easier to find a sport that may not be as familiar to Canadians."

Michael Anthony also observes that cricket is being played at city parks now. "In my youth, I had never heard of it. Both community and professional team sports show the true diversity of this country. Toronto comes alive during the World Cup for soccer (or football) and it makes me proud to be a Canadian to see flags on cars, the honking of horns and entire communities show their pride as members of their ethnic communities within a Canadian context." So, what are you waiting for?

Eat well and avoid dehydration

Whatever activities you might choose, keep in mind that a balanced diet and lots of liquids are essential to make it safe and good. Melissa Pancini Correia is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist in Toronto. She recommends drinking plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration, especially during hot weather. "You need water to keep the nutrients circulating in your body and to clear out the waste," she explains.

Melissa says that a common mistake that people make is to drink cold water. "We have to drink natural water. If we drink cold water it will take longer to hydrate the body. Our system will have to warm up the water first."

The nutritionist says that glucose, which we can get from carbohydrates, is the fuel your body needs. She recommends maintaining a well-balanced diet and choosing lots of fruit and vegetables to go with your whole grains (whole grain pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain cereal).

She says it is best to eat a regular meal three hours before exercising. But just before it, it is better to stick with light, easy-to-digest snacks. Go for fruits, perhaps with a few light carbohydrates – graham crackers, cereal, or a muffin.

During exercise, a good tip is to drink an average of a cup of liquid for every 15 to 20 minutes. For exercise lasting more than an hour, you may want to keep your energy up with sports drinks or juice mixed with water.

CNM