winter-health3With the light and warmth of summer months away, the natural inclination is to bundle up in front of the TV as much as possible. However, this is the worst plan for your health as human beings need to be physically active.

According to Dr. David Dannenbaum, of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB), while winter may make you want to hide indoors, it is necessary to get out and be active.

“What’s important is for people to set realistic goals around activity. We very often hear people say, ‘I am going to start playing hockey again,’ and that is great, but you might want to set up some kind of daily activity,” said Dannenbaum.

“Anything is better than nothing, but unless it is going to happen regularly, playing one day a week will mean that there is another six days when you aren’t doing anything, so you need a daily activity.”

According to Dannenbaum, the recommended amount of activity is likely much more than what they are doing at the moment. If you are doing absolutely nothing, then five minutes of activity a day is more than that and 15 minutes is more than five. He said to remain healthy a person should be active about 30 minutes a day and 150 minutes per week. Though the focus shouldn’t be only on the numbers, it should be about being active as much as you can.

winter-health1“When you speak to people who slowly become more active, they feel better immediately because exercise makes you feel better. Your body is simply not meant to sit around and do nothing, it’s supposed to be active and when it is active, it feels better,” said Dannenbaum.

At that, Dannenbaum said just being active, even if it is only going for a walk outdoors every day, is the kind of thing that can make you feel better both physically and mentally. You will be able to get rid of stress and your body will be doing what it wants to do and that in turn can be so much better for your health.

“There is no question that when you are more active, your heart is pumping more and your body is working better so you will have better blood pressure and better cholesterol. Everything is going to work better and work together to prevent heart disease,” said Dannenbaum.

“Think of your body as a car engine. If you leave it doing nothing for weeks on end and then try and start your car, it won’t work properly. It is the same thing with your body, when you use it every day it works better.”

And, it is with this in mind that the CBHSSJB is now collaborating with provincial and national programs to bring the Winter Active program to Eeyou Istchee, a campaign that is designed to help people fall in love with winter activities all over again.

According to Public Health’s Wally Rabbitskin, the Planning, Programming and Research Officer for Physical Activity for the Cree Region, Winter Active is a program for individuals, families and community leaders to get physically active.

“There is a lot of fun you can have during the winter with your family. All of the communities are being encouraged to organize winter activities once a week. They can do different kinds of activities, like snowshoeing or skating, and these can be things for the family or the entire community,” said Rabbitskin.

While the program may not provide for daily activities, at the heart of it is winter fun through activity and each of the communities has come up with individual ways to celebrate winter activities.

“In Mistissini, they have started the Winter Walks. Every Saturday morning they have a nine-kilometre traditional walk to a camp outside of the community. This is something that is for everyone and families can walk together with their children. Some snowshoe, some walk on the road and some even cross-country ski. The point is to get out and enjoy winter,” said Rabbitskin.

Waiting for the participants at the camps is a nutritious meal that’s been provided by the community. As an extra motivator, Rabbitskin said they also have prizes for those who take part – these include fitness passes for the gym and sport snowshoes.

“In the past, Crees were very active through traditional activities and just getting around. But now we have cars, skidoos and other forms of transportation and that’s not the case. There are fewer people walking around or doing physical activity outdoors. The kinds of shelters (and heating) that we have now don’t always require us to go outside and chop wood; instead we can just turn up the thermostat. So we have to encourage people to go out,” said Rabbitskin.

According to Rabbitskin, even the schools have gotten on board with the program to encourage families to get out and do physical activities with their children, by creating family challenges and activities that include family lunches.

The Winter Active program began on January 24 and continues until March 20. It will see activities organized by each community with funding from Health Canada and Public Health. If a community still wishes to submit an activity for funding, Rabbitskin said it could still do so under Winter Activity.

“Activities don’t have to be once a week, it can be an activity once a month just as long as it is about enjoying the winter,” said Rabbitskin.