03/09/2012 07:50 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Runner-Up in the Biggest Loser


Let's think back to high school, when the elusive goal for one's teenaged self was to be popular. The popular kids were the ones who had all the friends, got all the attention, and were somehow more worthy of being admired, accepted, or sought after. But if you think about it, popularity is not even an innate quality, or characteristic -- it's just a means of comparing yourself to others. If you're popular, then someone else isn't. Frankly, it doesn't mean you're intrinsically that great.

Sometimes, this obsession with measuring ourselves against others seems like the Canadian way -- especially when it comes to our cousins to the south, the United States.

Canada has long boasted a higher life expectancy, and lower obesity rates than the U.S. And somehow, we have convinced ourselves that this makes us superior -- even deserving of praise by comparison. We may eat too much fast food, but have you seen those buffets in the States? We may be couch potatoes, but The Biggest Loser would never really work up here. It's time to wake up and smell the sweat socks.

According to the OECD, 60 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 and above is overweight or obese, compared to 68 per cent in the U.S. Yes, this signals that our health outlook may be slightly rosier, but are these numbers really something to write home about? Are we just looking for more excuses not to tackle the problem? We know we have an obesity epidemic, but at least we're not as bad as the States?

Any way you slice it, we cannot be proud of these numbers. And we cannot be encouraged by the fact that only seven per cent of Canadian kids and 15 per cent of adults are active enough to meet physical activity guidelines. We know that physical activity is important in combating obesity, but we're just not doing it... or doing enough of it.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we continue to frame physical inactivity as part and parcel of the obesity issue. Sure, we all have to eat well and move more to maintain, or achieve a healthy body weight, but that downplays the fact that physical activity has a huge positive role to play beyond this. It's not just about getting exercise to get fit, it's about working up a sweat to fend off cancer, improve our moods, battle depression, and ward off heart disease.

Did you know that even a single workout can give you measurable health benefits? Even a single session of heart-pumping aerobic activity can reduce risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, such as triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and insulin resistance, as well as increase the "good" (HDL) cholesterol. You get these benefits within hours of working out, and the benefits can last up to three days.

And more than just improving your body's inner workings, physical activity can boost self-confidence, enhance your sex life, introduce you to new people, reduce anxiety, and help save the environment.

With all these benefits, it's a wonder getting active is not way more popular.