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2017 Physical Activity Forum

Early Tuesday morning I attended the 2017 Physical Activity Forum put on by the Alberta Centre for Active Living. The theme this year was "Don't Overthink It! - Promoting Physical Activity in a Busy Media Environment."

I made it early to the 8am pre-forum urban poling session so wandered around campus where I found Mandy Johnson the urban poling master trainer carrying a bag of special "Activator" poles.

It was cold and stormy so not a big turn out - one other very nice woman showed up (Nicole Dowling of ABHS) a far more experienced "poler" than I. But Mandy's energy and expertise was contagious and we were having fun in no time.

Mandy spoke passionately about the benefits to urban poling for people of all walks of life. How it makes rehabilitation possible and the general strain it takes off hips and knees, the increased benefits to posture and the 20-46% additional calorie burn compared to regular walking.

After the fresh morning workout - hot coffee and registration began, with a keynote speech by Dr. Tanya Berry, Professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the U of A and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The talk was very informative along with humorous and awareness building slides - big topics and pleas were bounced around such as "can we PLEASE vow to stop combining physical activity with weight loss" and key issues that remain to be solved on how to avoid shaming and causing the public to feel guilt when exposed to any kind of physical activity messaging.

She broke down the psychological and emotional ties people have causing their reactions to messaging and their often unconscious blocking out and dismissing. Negative associations caused by bad gym class experiences, or feelings of not belonging in a traditional gym environment - all discouraging factors and misleading preconceptions with their own unique challenges in spreading the word and motivating others to live healthier lives.

We are lazy thinkers, she confirmed referencing Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" book on our infrequency in thinking critically about something versus hardwired core beliefs taking the wheel.

She voiced the question none of us had the answer to of:

"Why don't people exercise even though they know it's good for them?"

Berry spoke of the morbidity/mortality factor derailing motivational efforts and leaving people feeling like it's pointless. That, and the very many contradictory sources of information out there cause people to feel like no matter what they do it's never the right thing, or good enough and even if it is - a new study will be published soon enough to dispel all your sweaty efforts.

After the speech a panel discussion took place with Megan McKinlay - Communications Lead with the Be Fit For Life Network and Gisele Tennant, President of Tennant Solutions. Tennant spoke of her efforts to reach people where they already frequented - conducting outreach in churches and hair salons and really trying to get to know the people she was attempting to reach.

She spoke of one woman who truly believed if she worked out, she would have a heart attack and die. That's a tough core belief to break through. Tennant advocates walking with many of her clients as a healthy practice - getting outside and combining social aspects all in one. Megan spoke of her efforts in promoting physical literacy in Alberta communities.

All three women provided answers to the Q+A session near the end with great meaning and inspiration, and everyone there acknowledged just how hard it is to unify messaging and really crack the conundrum of reaching people with physical activity messaging - especially those that are considered unreachable.

I left feeling inspired, clutching a handful of business cards and pamphlets to later look up and research, and even jotted down a few specific ideas and possible attempts at trying the "the more you know your audience" approach.

But I also felt conflicted and I bit discouraged as in - so no one has the answers? As I waited for the train I watched the cars whizzing by and thought of a Headspace meditation video on changing perspective. And was reminded that the flip-side of negative "what's the point" thinking is just the other "what's the point" positive side of the coin.

Straight answers aren't as important as the seeking and inevitable discovery that comes along with challenges and trying. That's what it's all about anyways, and a lot of what the forum's messaging tries to encourage - that small steps, any steps are always ones in the right direction I can definitely subscribe to.

And I now know steps taken with those Activator urban poles from Mandy, mean very sore legs the next day so you know it's working. Check her out in Canmore or all the great things the Centre for Acting Living does here.

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