Thunder Bay

Marathon, Ont., topping most-active Canadian community list

A small northern Ontario town is giving the rest of Canada a run for its money when it comes to being active.

Northern Ontario town participating in country-wide active community challenge

Marathon, Ont., was listed as the most-active community in Canada on Thursday in the ParticipACTION Community Better Challenge. The challenge encourages people to track minutes of activity with fitness trackers, such as the one pictured, and log them online. (AJ Mast/Associated Press)

A small northern Ontario town has been giving the rest of Canada a run for its money when it comes to being active.

Marathon is sitting atop the list of most-active Canadian communities, per capita, in this year's Participaction Community Better Challenge.

As of Thursday, Marathon was in first place in the challenge, which started May 30 and wraps up on June 16.

And while it hasn't been sitting atop the list for the entire period, Marathon hasn't slipped below third place, said Dr. Sarah Newbery, a family physician with the Marathon Family Health Team.

The competition, she said, "challenges people to wear their FitBit, track their minutes of activity, and to log that online."

Michele Lajeunesse, community health promotion coordinator at the Marathon Family Health Team, said the challenge is open to both individuals and organizations.

Cash prizes

"We have partnered with a few organizations in our community that are logging minutes for soccer teams, for schools, for example, for our seniors' supportive housing facility," Lajeunesse said. "We also have a lot of individuals who have either downloaded the app, or are logging their own minutes on the website."

Lajeunesse said staff at the Marathon Family Health Team did a lot of promotion to get the community interested in participating.

"We started just by doing some radio interviews," she said. "We published things in our local newspaper, we posted things on social media, just letting people know that the challenge was coming."

A poster campaign was held, and letters sent to organizations like schools encouraging them to participate.

And there is quite the prize at stake. The overall, national winner will receive a prize of $150,000, while regional winners — Marathon is competing against other Ontario communities in that category — win $20,000.

Lajeunesse said she's begun circulating a survey to community members asking where they'd like to see that money spent, should Marathon win.

"One of the more popular options seems to be a splash pad for kids, and also just updating some of the parks that we have available," she said. "We have a really nice park that's right in Marathon — there's a nice lake there, there's a campground — so it could be something like adding more outdoor exercise equipment, maybe adding a tennis court there."

Health benefits

But regardless of how the contest itself turns out for Marathon, there certainly are benefits to the increased activity, Newbery said.

"I spend my day primarily with people who are struggling with illness and chronic disease," she said. "To me, it's really exciting to see the opportunity to get a little bit upstream of some of the health challenges that people so-often experience."

"It's really lovely to see people engaging in this."