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Canadian government launches The Play Exchange, taps the creativity of everyday citizens to solve health crisis

A recent 12-year study examined the health habits of 5,404 Canadians who had just received an initial diagnosis of a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, or respiratory disease. The study found that even after being diagnosed, and after being counseled on lifestyle changes, most people still didn’t make major adjustments to their lifestyles.

These findings are sobering, especially given Canada’s looming health crisis:

  • Three in five Canadians over the age of 20 already suffer from a chronic disease.
  • Only half of Canadians age 12 and over are active or moderately active. Many adults do not get the minimum amount of physical activity (2.5 hours per week).
  • One in three Canadian children are overweight or obese, and only 4.4 percent get enough physical activity (about an hour a day is recommended).

Many of us have resolved to start exercising daily, eat more veggies, and kick bad habits like smoking—and many of us have failed. So why is it so hard to make lifestyle changes?

Behavior experts believe that we may be too often spurred by feelings of guilt or fear, when long-lasting change is most likely possible when our goals are self-motivated and rooted in positivity. We also need support and to be patient—lifestyle changes take time, and we might stumble and backslide along the way.

The old ideas—the threat of illness, New Year’s resolutions, admonishments from doctors and the government—haven’t worked. But all over Canada, citizens are changing the game by innovating fresh solutions for helping one another make lasting, healthy changes. They are creating support systems and focusing on the positives—more energy, good health, and the joy of play.

For example, Tumblebugs in Nova Scotia is helping three to five-year-olds get a healthy start by introducing them to basic, modified gymnastic movements that build motor skills and set the foundation for staying active as they grow up. In Ontario, Brock Niagara Penguins is a sports club that enables disabled youth and adults to play and compete alongside their peers. In the North, the Arctic Wind Ridersprogram is introducing people to the adrenaline-filled sport of kite skiing and the exhilarating rewards of being active outdoors.

To tap the ingenuity of Canadians, the Government of Canada has partnered with Canadian Tire, the CBCLIFT Philanthropy Partners, and Ashoka Changemakers to launch The Play Exchange, an online challenge that seeks new and creative ideas for promoting active and healthy living in Canada. The challenge’s top entry will be eligible for an investment of up to $1 million from the Government of Canada to put the idea into action.

Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, is encouraging all Canadians to participate. “The Play Exchange is the first of its kind in Canada, harnessing our country’s innovative spirit and capitalizing on the momentum we already have in our country to encourage children and youth and all Canadians to be more active,” Ms. Ambrose said.  “We want to hear directly from Canadians on how best to make Canada healthier…The decision to lead an active lifestyle is, after all, a personal one.”

Got an idea for a healthier Canada? Visit The Play Exchange online to find out more about the challenge and share your project! Submit your ideas by 5 PM EST April 9 to be eligible for a $1,000 Early Entry Prize!

Follow the #playexchange hashtag on Twitter for updates about the challenge.

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Kristie Wang @KristieWang is a content producer and media mobilizer at Ashoka Changemakers.

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