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Does Canada Need a National “Stop to Smell the Flowers” Day?

Yesterday, I was quoted in the media regarding a private members bill introduced by MP John Weston calling for municipalities to provide cheap access to fitness centres, as considering this idea rather ‘simplistic’.

Not that I don’t think Canadians should be more active or that we must not do all we can to reduce the epidemic of sedentariness.

I just don’t believe that a) this needs to happen at fitness centres and b) that this is necessarily a bill that should be offered as a solution to the obesity problem.

If anything, these type of proposals do little else but perpetuate the myth that a bit of more physical activity will reduce body weights or prevent weight gain.

Rather, with, for example, the emerging evidence on the role of sleep deprivation on metabolism and body weight, we may as well be calling for a national “Let’s All Sleep In Late” day or (even better) a national “Let’s All Stop To Smell The Flowers” Day.

The point is not that I am against exercise or don’t believe in its benefits. The point is that it will take more than getting more Canadians into fitness centres to combat obesity.

Not that we should be stopping anyone from getting more active. MP Weston apparently is a sports buff himself, has three kids who are sports buffs, and a wife who is a personal fitness trainer – great for them, but hardly a model for the Canadians that I see in my practice.

It is certainly not the monetary cost of visiting a fitness centre stopping them – if anything, it is lack of time, low self-esteem, poor body image, depression, sheer exhaustion after a stressful day, and perhaps far too little restorative sleep.

The last thing they need is yet one more obligation (read: visit to a fitness centre) in their already busy and overscheduled days.

If they did have the extra hour or so to actually dedicate to going to a fitness centre my advice would probably be to rather get an extra hour of sleep or perhaps just an extra hour of mindful relaxation – read a book, go for a walk, play an instrument, paint a picture, or just take the time to have a meaningful conversation with your kid or partner – or, perhaps, just pause to smell the flowers.

The problem is not that Canadians are too lazy or too cheap to pay for fitness centres – the problem is that too many Canadians are too busy, too stressed, too short of time, too exhausted, spend too much time in their cars, and are too caught up in everything else that makes a healthy lifestyle virtually impossible.

As I’ve said before, changing your lifestyle is more about changing your ‘life’ than your ‘style’.

Perhaps a life in which there is actually time to stop and smell the flowers will do more to prevent and better manage your weight than any workout that I’ve ever heard of.

Edmonton, Alberta

photo credit: bikesandwich via photopin cc


  1. I had these same concerns about “health clubs” when my insurance company sent out a letter giving a “rebate” on health club dues if I would go to the gym a certain number of times per month.
    I called to see if I could obtain a “rebate” on my running shoes or bicycle maintenance because as I exercise 5-6 days a week, I don’t often step foot inside the gym. Needless to say, I did not get very far.

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  2. “the problem is that too many Canadians are too busy, too stressed, too short of time, too exhausted, spend too much time in their cars, and are too caught up in everything else that makes a healthy lifestyle virtually impossible.”
    You hit the nail on the head and I can totally relate to that list. How sad – I really do want to be in better shape – and isn’t exercise supposed to improve sleep quality? Seems like a vicious cycle….and I have a 10 minute commute, one drop off/pick up for the kids, etc. My colleagues in Toronto face the same challenges within a context of long commutes, gridlock, impossible prices for homes that are in locations compatible with walking/cycling/quick public transit…

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  3. Dr Sharma, thank you for this. It describes my current lifestyle accurately. Although I would love to get more exercise, at the moment sleep is my top priority. I’m averaging about 5 hours per night with at least 2 all-nighters every 3 weeks – and this has been going on since mid-July. I’m a casual tertiary education lecturer – I’ve been either sitting on my behind writing lectures/marking for the 5 courses I’m involved in; or standing lecturing/demonstrating in labs/in the field. I KNOW I would feel much better with more exercise, but sleep is more important. Even plain old ELMM looks great right now, but I’m not superhuman and unless someone else takes over some of my workload, nothing will be changing until the end of Semester in November. Oh – add to that the responsibilities of family and home…

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  4. @Brenda: I don’t know how anyone lives in the GTA – I just spent 60 mins on a 39 km trip yesterday and luckily avoided complete gridlock on the 401 and here we are talking additional trips to the gym – give me a break!

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  5. yes! yes! yes! more of this please Dr Sharma – this needs a lot of repeating!!!!! Thank you.

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  6. Lower cost fares for lower income people is a deffinant asset for those who are low income. After all, there are those who would benefit from such a practice–because the money does pose a barrier for some, there are some obese individuals who are overweight who are not self-conscience regarding exersizing in spite of obesity. However, the cost of other things like housing, food, and expenses needs to take priority. Low income people and families deserve is quality of life and if lower cost exersize, and recreation facility will aide the low income families and quality of life even if there own obesity is not dealt with.

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  7. Excellent post! Exercise opportunities for free abound…walking, working out at home with very inexpensive or free accessories, bicycling are all all possible, regardless of income. It is up to the individual.

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  8. I agree with you on so many points but i have to add that i think the private members bill shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. I think everyone should get tax credits the same way we have the physicial fitness tax break for kids. And, included in this should be things like bicycle purchase/repair ( i commute to work 8 months a year) and running shoes etc..

    but this is not THE solution to reducing obesity it should be seen as PART of the solution.

    There are indeed many other reasons why adults are not active, finances is just a part of it. The change that needs to take place goes beyone individual changes to a healthy lifestyle it is societal shift in rethinking what ‘s important for us at all levels from the personal to the political.

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