Originally published Jan. 9, 2019 in the Medicine Hat News.

By Jordan Pancoast

Although it is well known that physical activity is important for our health and helps prevent serious chronic diseases, sedentary lifestyles still are alarmingly on the rise.

In children and teens, especially, there has been a significant drop in physical activity over the last several decades, largely due to technological advancements in this digital age we all live in and have become accustomed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily for children between the ages of 5-17. However, only 4% of girls (compared to 9% of boys) achieve this recommended level of activity.

Inactivity is linked to a wide range of health conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease; which, for most Canadians, is not new information.

However, they may not be aware that inactivity is also significantly associated with depressive symptoms and clinical depression and anxiety.

Moderate-vigorous physical activity is associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms in girls and boys, and girls, specifically, benefit greatly from participation in organized sports, with 90% of girls playing a team sport indicating that it had a positive impact on their self-esteem and mental well-being.

Of all of the factors that put us at risk for poor mental and physical health, lack of physical activity is one of the most modifiable of these risk factors.

This simply means that increasing your level of activity is something that you actually have control over and can often do with limited means or outside support.

Children and teens, require more support and encouragement to increase their activity levels than adults, because they have less financial means, are less aware of the risks of inactivity, and rely largely on parents and adult role models to make healthy choices that impact them (such as the buying of groceries or enforcing of rules regarding screen time etc.).

Throughout my nursing education, as well as during my experiences working as a nurse in Medicine Hat for the past 10 years, the impact that physical activity has on a person’s health has become incredibly apparent to me.

I have seen many poor health outcomes associated with inactivity, which could have been avoided or less serious had the patient been engaged in lifelong activity or sport. I strongly believe we must instill this love for being active at a young age and promote it as children grow up.

By looking beyond the school setting for engagement in community-based sport and physical activity opportunities, we can all help the kids we know and care about stay active — which helps set them up for a healthier future!

I am in a position where I routinely give health advice to patients, often including encouraging them to be more physically active.

At times, I have not followed my own advice, using excuses of being “too busy” with work, school, or kids activities. Although I value physical fitness and have been trained to emphasize it in my professional role, I can relate to those who struggle getting in the recommended daily requirements!

For myself, starting small goes a long way – taking the stairs at work, parking further away at the grocery store, walking the dogs, or doing home exercises are easy ways for me to increase physical activity.

Medicine Hat is lucky to have many great local businesses where you can have fun and work out, and I personally have enjoyed pushing my comfort zone and trying new things such as yoga, cross fit, and spin here in town.

There are also many great running paths to access that are a free and great way to get active, boost your mood, or clear your head!

I joined the FAME team because I am passionate about staying active, being healthy, and helping others to do the same.

Being female and having a young daughter, I am also passionate about promoting self-esteem and empowering girls through being active. To learn more about FAME and how to become involved to advocate and support opportunities for females in sport and physical activity go to famemedicinehat.com.

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    FAME: The importance of physical activity for girls in our community
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    FAME: The importance of physical activity for girls in our community
    A new community outreach program stresses the importance of physical activity to girls, all children.
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