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The message isn't getting through

There's a second running boom allegedly sweeping North America. The first one, some of us remember, was back in the 1970s, sparked by people like Bill Rodgers and his four Boston Marathon wins and writer/runner Jim Fixx. On this side of the border, Jerome Drayton's 1977 Boston win and Jacqueline Gareau's victory there three years later — after officials disqualified Rosie Ruiz — inspired hordes of Canadians to lace up.

Now, figures compiled by MarathonGuide.com in the U.S. show that the number of people completing marathons has been rising steadily for years. In 2007, 407,000 people crossed the finish line of a marathon in the U.S. That's a jump of about 35 per cent since 2000.

While there are no comparable numbers on this side of the border, anecdotal evidence abounds. The Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, Ont. — held annually on the first weekend of March — has sold out two months in advance the past two years.

Canada's biggest road race — the 10K Vancouver Sun Run — attracted more than 53,000 entrants in 2007. They're looking to smash that record this year. It seems we're finally getting the fitness message.

Actually, we're not.

Last month, Statistics Canada came out with figures that show that barely three in 10 Canadians aged 15 and over participated regularly in at least one sport in 2005, down dramatically from nearly half in the early 1990s.

That's a huge drop. One that corresponds with the surge in obesity rates.

Many blamed a lack of time as the major reason they're not active. For those between the ages of 25 and 34, 45 per cent said they were too busy to be active.

The study found the decline in participation cut across all age groups, education levels, income brackets, both sexes and almost all provinces. It blamed an aging population that is getting less active for much of the decline. In 1992, 36 per cent of people aged 35 and over were active. By 2005, that number had dropped to 22 per cent.

Granted, the study didn't include things like yoga and fitness classes in its numbers. But I'm thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference if it did.

In 1998, golf surpassed hockey as the most popular participation sport in the country. The next most popular were swimming, soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball.

And even golf is in trouble. In the U.S., a recent report suggests the number of golfers has been steadily declining for years and that the number who play regularly fell by a third between 2000 and 2005.

We'd rather watch than devote the time it takes to participate in golf or any other physical activity. Why bother when Perdita Felicien can do the training, carry the flag and we can feel victory through her.

After all, we have earned the right to sit on the sofa, drink beer and watch what heights others are capable of reaching.

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