I’d be a lot healthier if I only had the time!

clockA recent survey from the Heart & Stroke Foundation (HSFC) reported that a large number of Canadians say they do not have time to exercise regularly or eat healthy foods, both strong tools in the prevention of heart disease and stroke.

According to the survey, eighty percent of Canadians know that heart disease and stroke can largely be prevented, postponed, and even treated by living a healthier lifestyle and 75% say they would live a healthier life if it weren’t for a number of barriers. The biggest barrier cited is time.

According to the HSFC report, for some of these barriers, it may be more a matter of perception than reality. Let’s take a look at what they had to say:

No time because of a long commute: This is a tough one as it is well-known that commute times have grown longer over the years and this is especially the case in Canada’s large urban centres. However, commute times are often half as long in smaller cities and towns and yet those residents are not necessarily any more active. In fact obesity rates are higher in Canada’s smaller towns and rural areas, on average, than in the big cities.

No time because of family obligations: Driving the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons, taking care of a loved one, visiting aging parents, school involvement, helping kids with homework. These things all take time and are all a part of busy modern life. But let’s not forget some of the modern conveniences that have freed up time. For many, the internet has allowed them to shop and do banking online, stay in touch with friends and family through email and Facebook, get help with homework or research a paper, and a whole host of other activities that used to take much longer when one had to get up and go somewhere. And yet, spare time still seems to be a rare commodity, keeping us from doing things that will help prevent heart disease and stroke. So where is that time going if it’s not spent exercising or cooking a heart-healthy meal? HSFC cites Statistics Canada in reporting that about 30% of Canadian adults spend 2 or more hours a day watching television with half those people reporting they spend over 20 hours a week in front of the box. And what about that other box? 15% of Canadian adults report spending 90 minutes or more each day in front of their computers–and that’s not during work time!

So, clearly extra time is there for many of us. We just have to make healthy eating and physical activity priorities in our lives.

Some other barriers cited in the survey:

Lack of facilities: 25 % of the respondents to the HSFC survey cited this as a barrier.

Cost of exercise programs, too, was a factor cited.

But in both these cases, one doesn’t necessarily need access to a gym or community centre to be active. As long as there are well-maintained parks and safe streets to walk, many Canadians can take advantage of the cheapest form of exercise–a brisk walk or hike! Walking briskly can get your heart and lungs working more efficiently so that you reap the benefits–major benefits in the fight against heart disease and stroke!

Cost of healthy food: Income and location are major factors for many Canadians who would otherwise shop for better food to cook. This is a real problem for low-income Canadians who can not afford fresh fruits and vegetables and many Canadians live in areas where access to such food is limited. The HFSC urges government, industry, and non-governmental organizations to increase access to healthy food for Canadians who can not afford it or who do not live close to sources of healthy food.

Lack of motivation: Half of the HSFC survey respondents say they lack the motivation to be more active or eat healthier food. HSFC reminds us that even small steps count and suggests some practical things that can be done, such as meal planning, having some quick and easy healthy food in your cupboard, and making meals in advance on weekends. As for exercise, get out with a friend for a walk. As they say, “you don’t need to run a marathon–but you do have to get off the couch”.

For more on the HSFC survey and to learn more about their initiatives, see their new campaign at heartandstroke.ca/time. The Foundation has set an ambitious goal of reducing death from heart disease and stroke by 25% by 2020. Clearly Canadians get the message that heart disease and stroke can largely be prevented or at least assisted through diet and exercise. They just need help to find the time to do so.

To your health,