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Nutrition Month

March is nutrition month across Canada. During this month it’s a great time to think about the interconnected relationship between exercise, nutrition and our overall well-being.

Statistics Canada information tells us that over 60% of Canadians are overweight or obese. The recent Canadian Health Measures Survey, considered one of the most complete studies ever conducted on the fitness of Canadians, suggests that Canadians are less fit and less flexible than they were in the seventies.

This month’s Dietitians of Canada nutrition campaign is labelled From Field to Table , and focuses on the healthy benefits of local food. Local food is fresher; calorie for calorie it is packed with more nutrients, but this nutritious food is also expensive. Edmonton’s nutritious food basket puts the cost of a month’s groceries at over $600 per month for a family of four. Statistics also show a direct relationship between obesity and poverty.

Most Canadians overestimate the amount of calories we actually burn during exercise, and underestimate how many calories we eat in a day. Many food sovereignty experts speak to the issue of over-consumption in North America. Our nutritional habits are the gas-guzzling SUVs of the agricultural world. Clearly the issues are inter-related and complex.

Up first, weight loss and exercise:

Last year there was controversy about the benefits of exercise for weight loss. A Time
article proposing that exercise was “useless” for weight loss spurred a response and a position stand from the ACSM.

Obesity experts will tell you that weight loss is simply mathematics—calories in vs. calories out. One might think then, because exercise burns calories, that the relationship is clear. Not so. These same experts say that overweight problems and obesity are complicated by a dynamic relationship with economic, genetic, psychological and social factors at play in every individual. So, although exercise plays a role in health, fitness and weight, it is important to recognize what role it plays. Only 3–5% of people who engage in lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise alone succeed in keeping the weight off over 5 years.

Too many of us connect the scale to our exercise goals. Being thin does not mean you are healthy, and BMI is not an absolute indicator of a healthy weight. While many people feel that exercise is the best way to lose weight, Director of the Canadian Obesity Network, Dr. Arya Sharma says that, “exercise is the least efficient way to lose weight. Nevertheless, increased activity is one of the best ways to improve health, and people who exercise are more likely to keep weight off.”

ACSM member Timothy Church also notes that exercise and diet go together. “Virtually all people who lose weight and keep it off are exercising to maintain their weight.”

The misconceptions are many, and the answers are not so simple. The calorie burn during the workout of an elite athlete is significantly higher than that of the average Canadian—but many average Canadians overestimate the amount of calories we burn during exercise. So, while we may reward ourselves with a valuable nutritional after-workout energy drink, we may then have to reduce our calorie intake somewhere else in the day. For example, a 500 ml container of 1% chocolate milk contains beneficial nutrients for glycogen replacement after exercise, yet contains over 300 calories: one hour in a gym for the average Canadian.

Is there an argument for a closer relationship between dietitians, exercise physiologists, and physicians whose expertise all play such an important role in the well-being of Canadians?

Some resources:

Dietitians of Canada website

Dietitians of Canada fuelling fitness myth buster

ACSM Fit vs. Fat

Obesity Network of Canada

Interesting and controversial reading in the news
The Food Paradox

Battling the Bulge

Workout and Exercise:is it futile?

The Brain and obesity

chocolate milk and exercise

*Next week: From Field to Table: local food in Alberta *

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