Healthy Choices

Canadians have changed a lot in the past ten years. We exercise more, smoke less, eat more vegetables, recycle our garbage and make more conscientious decisions about how we drive, drink, work and play. We understand that a multitude of factors affects our health and that we can do something about many of them – either as individuals or through our combined efforts.

Today, Canadians view health as a state of total well-being, physical, social and emotional. It’s not enough to jog three times a week or achieve a blood cholesterol level one can brag about. We are looking for more, the sense of well-being and old-fashioned pleasure that comes from living life to the fullest.

Fortunately, the latest research confirms what we intuitively feel. Healthy, active living is not about pain, “going for the burn”, banning sugar and salt from your life, giving up T.V. or changing your lifestyle completely. It is about involvement, fun and making choices little, everyday choices that add up to improved well-being.

At participate action, we believe that small, pleasurable changes are easy to come by. Active living, good nutrition, and positive human relations are the products of how we live and enjoy each day. So read on… as we enter the choices, both big and small can make a difference!


Fitness: What It Means Today

IN 1986 THE WORD “aerobics” officially entered the Oxford English Dictionary. Its inclusion there was another sign that the fitness boom of the ’70s and ’80s was more than the latest fad. In fact, the late, George Gallup, founding the father of public polls, called the fitness movement “the most fundamental and lasting lifestyle change” he had seen in his entire career.

Women are now as active as men and seniors tend to participate more than middle-aged Canadians.The combined distance of seniors from all across the country took them to the moon and back, some 752,550 kilometers.

Led by the running phenomenon, many Canadians took up jogging, cross-country skiing, and fitness classes in an effort to slim down, shape-up and build a healthy heart. Along the way, they came to appreciate the fact that regular physical activity does more than build muscles or clear arteries. It feels good. Indeed, in Canada’s Health Promotion Survey, a higher percent of regular exercisers say they are both healthier and happier than those who do little or no exercise.

The result is a shift away from highly organized, technical approaches toward lifetime activities that place as much emphasis on enjoyment, quality of life and personal growth as they do on living longer. Fitness options now include everyday activities such as walking or cycling to work, unstructured activities such as recreational swimming, cultural activities such as folk or square dancing and outdoor leisure activities such as gardening of family canoe trips.

“People are looking for an all-round emotional, spiritual and physical wellness program,” says Sue Hills, Manager of Sue Hills Fitness in British Columbia, not “just physical fitness led by a perfectly proportioned instructor clad in a scanty spandex outfit.”

The holistic health benefits of active living are increasingly spelled out by research. In addition to its positive effects on physical health, physical activity has important mental health benefits. These include reductions in anxiety, tension, depression and reaction to stress. Physical activity was also hailed as an aging antidote. Regular activity in your 50’s and 60’s was shown to produce functional gains equivalent to as much as taking 10 to 15 years off your age!

As the fitness movement matures to encompass both physical and mental well-being, activities that include challenge, self-control, concentration and tranquility (such as martial, arts, adventure trips, team sports and dance) are experiencing a renaissance. In fitness classes, low-impact moves, choreography, relaxation exercises and variations on yoga and tai chi are beginning to replace earlier go-for-the-burn style workouts.


Choosing To Be Active

CHOOSING TO BE ACTIVE has a lot to do with the human drive to be healthier, happier and sexier. Staying active, however, appears to have more to do with the good feelings and energy that results from regular activity. Here are the basics to making and maintaining the active living choice:


* Imagine yourself regularly active. Picture yourself with more energy, less tension, increased self-confidence and an overall sense of well-being. Make the general idea of fitness specific to you.

* Select physical activities that suit your lifestyle, needs, abilities and interest. Find opportunities throughout the day and week to be active–on the way to work, at lunch, with the family on the weekend.

* Choose activities that you enjoy and build variety into your program; e.g. walking 3 times a week, calisthenics on alternate days and cycling on the weekend. Enjoyment is a highly personal issue, so set up some pleasure criteria for yourself. If you have a good time, you’ll want to continue on a regular basis.

* Progress slowly at a speed that feels comfortable to you.

* Aim to be deliberately active three times each week. Complement your program with everyday active living–garden, dance, walk, use the stairs.


* Join a group or invite family members or friends to join you. A person whose spouse exercises is 1-1/2 times more likely to be active.

* Make it easy on yourself. Integrate your chosen activities into your schedule instead of adding them on.

* Listen to your body. If an activity hurts, slow down or find an alternative.

* Program success by setting short-term, achievable goals. Being active three times a week is a worthwhile achievement in itself, you don’t have to run a marathon.

* Cross-training is a fancy word for variety. It will prevent boredom and help provide a balanced activity program.

* Be patient; it takes more than two weeks to get in shape.

The Good News About Good Nutrition

FOOD IS ONE of our greatest pleasures in life. We eat to be sociable, to nourish ourselves, to celebrate and to fight fatigue. Fortunately, positive nutrition is still compatible with pleasurable eating. You don’t need to give up everything you love for the sake of health. You do need to make some specific choices, and to aim for variety and moderation in your everyday choices. By making one or two small changes, you can start to make a big difference in how you feel. Our “smart eating choices” fall into three basic categories. Read through them and check off the ideas that you can put into action.


  1. Variety is the spice of life

All of us crave the pleasure of different taste sensations. And eating a wide variety of foods is still the best way to ensure we get all the nutrients we need:

* Middle Eastern, Chinese, Mexican and Indian dishes offer a variety of nutritious choices. Try yummy falafel in pita, steamed vegetables and rice, mexican beans or vegetable curries.

* Perk up breakfast. Left-over chicken, hot porridge (2 minutes in the microwave) or cafe-au-lait are easy and fast breakfast treats. Or take along a pocket breakfast: one fruit (e.g. orange, apple), one bread (e.g. a muffin, piece of date loaf or serving-size cereal box) and a protein source (e.g. piece of cheese, hardboiled egg or bread with peanut butter).

* Mix up your proteins by choosing grilled or poached fish more often. Recent studies have concluded that eating deep-water fish such as salmon, hearing or bluefish may help prevent heart disease.

* Spice up soups, stews, dressings, rice or casseroles with basil, cumin, oregano, hot peppes, chili powder or wine as a way of reducing your salt intake and adding new tastes to your meals.

* Reducing diets that eliminate foods (e.g. grapefruits diet, the lowcarbohydrate diet) bore your taste buds and inevitably lead to weight regain. Instead, opt for a nutritious, delicious but moderate eating plan.

* Reserve your fast food fix to once a week (fast foods are low on crunch, high on fat and weary in taste over time).

* Surprise someone with a homemade lunch containing a Greek salad or a sandwich made with rye, whole wheat or pita bread, a thermos of soup and a note that says “I love you”.

  1. Easy Low-Fat Eating

The trouble with fat is that it’s fattening–one gram of fat has 9 calories, compared with 4 calories for a gram of protein or carbohydrate. High intakes of fat are associated with overweight, high blood cholesterol levels and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Reducing the fat in your diet, however, doesn’t mean giving up all snack foods or what you usually like to eat. In one study, men with moderately high blood pressure and blood cholesterol went on a low-fat diet for 40 days without giving up red meat, diary foods, eggs or all desserts. By trim ing fat and skin from meat, replacing whole milk with skim, broiling or baking instead of frying their foods and exchanging vegetables oil for animal cooking fats, they dropped both their blood pressures and cholesterol levels and increased their overall feelings of energy. Here are some other examples of how sprinkling your diet with tasty, low-fat choices can make a difference.

  1. Fabulous Fibre

Fibre is found in foods of plant origin. Soluble fibres, which dissolve in water, are found in dried peas, beans, and lentils, oat bran, oatmeal, products containing corn, barley or rye, and fresh fruits and vegetables. They have been reported to have a blood cholesterol-lowering effect in humans. Insoluble fibres, which absorb water like a sponge, are found in bran, whole wheat products and fresh fruits and vegetables. They add bulk to the stool and speed bowel movements, helping to protect against constipation, diverticulosis and possibly colon cancer. Fibre foods add texture and enjoyment to eating.

Here are some simple ways to up your fibre intake.

* Eat a whole grain and bran products (e.g. whole wheat bread and crackers, rye bread, oatmeal). The more processed a product, the less fibre it contains (and the less interesting the texture).

* Use fibre extenders when cooking (e.g. cereals, bran, nuts, seeds, wheat germ).

* Eat at least 2 vegetables and 2 fruits a day (fresh has more fibre than canned; juice has even less).

* Discover the good taste of legumes and eat them more often.

* Eat foods containing both soluble and insoluble fibres. Aim to consume a total of 40 grams of fibre each day. When a label indicates a “source of fibre” or “moderate source of fibre”, it contains at least 2 g of dietary fibre per serving. “High source” means 4 g per serving and “very high source” designates at least 6 g.

Helping You Helps Me

RUNNERS AND OTHER ATHLETES sometimes describe euphoric “highs” during their workout followed by a profound sense of relaxation afterward. Now there is evidence that helping others can produce these same kinds of emotional and physical feelings.

A woman who counsels abusive parents, for example, compared her “feelings of well-being” to “what she feels while swimming.” Luks points out that our natural opiates, the endorphins, which are activated by vigorous physical activity, may also produce the good feelings that arise during social contact with others.

There is other evidence that helping others is good for your health. When students at Harvard University watched a film of Mother Teresa tending to the sick in Calcutta, their immune functioning improved. Another large study in Michigan showed that men who did volunteer work had death rates 2-1/2 times lower than those who did not.

Helping others while you help yourself is the basic philosophy of self-help groups–the most rapidly developing human service in North America. An estimated 12 million people now participate in some 500,000 self-help groups. They range from well-established groups like Alcoholics Anonymous to less well-known groups for smokers, phobics, gamblers, parents of handicapped children and many others.

In their book “Healthy Pleasures”, authors Ornstein and Sobel point out that choosing to help others may not be beneficial if you do it simply because it is good for you. Rather, healthy altruism comes from a genuine desire to connect and help others because we are all part of the same human community.

The late Dr. Hans Selye, the father of stress theory, called altruistic egoism the best stress releaser on earth. “By deliberately helping others, you will gain a hoard of goodwill. This will give you a sense of security and self-esteem to cushion you against the hurts and frustrations no human being can avoid.”

Caring about others is as natural as caring about ourselves. So go ahead choose to reach past Number One.

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