Transcript of interview with Mark Tremblay on fitness levels
Crowe: What’s the most important information from this report?
Tremblay: There are a couple of important things. One is for the first time ever we have an accurate picture on the movement behaviour of Canadians. The Canadian Health Services Survey allows us to carefully partition the types of movements that people are doing throughout the day into different categories with some degree of accuracy. We know how long and when people were sedentary, were doing light activity, and if they were doing moderate or vigorous activity. We are able to compare and contrast this to previous information, which might have been based on self-report information that clearly has the inherent weaknesses that go along with that.
Crowe: What did you learn?
Tremblay: Well, we now have good robust information for comparison and that’s the good news. The reality is that approximately 15 per cent of Canadian adults and seven per cent of Canadian children and youth are meeting physical activity recommendations based on the best available evidence.
Tremblay: Seven per cent of kids in the country are accumulating 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity six days of the week. Only 15 per cent of adults are getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity throughout the whole week accumulated in ten-minute bouts. It means we’re very inactive. We’re a long way from meeting targets that are associated with substantial health benefits. Further and perhaps most strikingly from the research is how much we’re sedentary, which isn’t just the opposite of the physical activity picture. What the research shows is that we can quantify the amount of sedentary behaviour, and kids are accumulating 8.6 hours per day of sedentary behaviour; for adults it is 9.5 hours of waking time per day. That represents 60% to 70% of the entire waking day that we’re essentially immobile.
Crowe: Is that really a problem since we are working or at school.
Tremblay: Well, we don’t have to be totally inactive during these times. You could be standing up doing this interview for example. There are ways we can interrupt our sedentary behaviour. There’s a growing body of evidence showing that’s advantageous to cardiovascular risk factors — even standing up more frequently, moving a little more frequently, standing up at meetings, standing up and sitting down again, changing our posture. Although that’s not going to increase physical activity it will reduce sedentary behaviour and produce health benefits.
Crowe: Were you surprised by the findings?
Tremblay: Yes, the degree to which we are sedentary and the degree to which we are not physically active is surprising and disappointing, especially in light of the efforts made by different groups to motivate people, to encourage people, to inspire people to be physically active. It seems the more accurate the information we get, the worse the story is. I have a high degree of confidence in this data. This is the situation as it is. The good news is we know what the situation is, we’re probably close to the bottom of where we can be at, and what we need now are aggressive sustained programs to change that.
Crowe: Are you saying we’ve bottomed out?
Tremblay: Well seven per cent for children and 15 per cent of activity for adults means 93 per cent are not reaching the targets — 85 per cent of adults are not meeting the targets and the targets are very modest. They represent one, two, three per cent of our daily time that we’re asking people to be physically active. At the other end of the spectrum, more and more of the time that we are not physically active, which is almost all of our time, is spent almost completely sedentary. Both of these we need to change to preserve and to promote health.
Crowe: It sounds like we are hardly moving at all?
Tremblay: This is true for many people for very large chunks of the day. The argument that we are at work or in school during the day is one we need not accept. We can modify the school day, we can modify our workday to introduce movement into the day — to interrupt complete sedentary time — and I think we should do that, while at the same time put programs in place to motivate people to be physically active.
Crowe: What is moderate and vigorous activity?
Tremblay: Moderate means something like doing a brisk walk, doing your sporting activities, going for a jog, going for a swim. At moderate you should still be able to talk but be a little bit out of breath. As you get to more vigorous activity you lose that ability. Overall it is important to do something to interrupt sedentary activity. We need to get people moving more often.