2011 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity indicates downward trend

(Edmonton) The 2011 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity published on Jan.10 by the Alberta Centre for Active Living reports that 54 per cent of adult Albertans are physically active enough to receive health benefits, down from 58.5 per cent in 2009 and 62.4 per cent in 2007.

“Although the decrease in activity since 2009 is not statistically significant on its own, there is a downward trend over the last four years,” said John Spence, associate dean (research) in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta.

According to Spence, the downward trend is not unique to Alberta; it’s also happening across Canada. He suggested the Canadian Health Measures Survey conducted by Statistics Canada over the last several years provides other evidence that physical activity levels are dropping among adults and children.

The Alberta Centre for Active Living has conducted the Alberta Survey on Physical Activity every other year since 1995 to monitor the physical activity levels of Albertans. The 2011 survey was co-written by Spence, Tanya Berry, an associate professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, and Christina Loitz (MSc, PhD candidate), research co-ordinator at the Alberta Centre for Active Living.

Berry says that the decrease can be partly attributed to Alberta’s aging population and the fact that “in today’s society we have engineered physical activity out of much of our lives.”

Berry also noted that adults need to be physically active at least 150 minutes a week to get health benefits, including light to vigorous activity every day. “Clearly, about half of Albertans simply aren’t active enough, for a variety of reasons which we need to know about and explore.”

Part of the value in doing the survey every two years is that it provides insight into sociodemographic, psychological and other factors that may affect the activity levels of Albertans, added Berry.

“For instance, the 2011 results and previous surveys continue to tell us that Albertans at lower income levels are less likely to be sufficiently active to gain health benefits. This is important information for communities and policy- and decision-makers, which can help guide them towards actions or policy steps that facilitate physical activity for all people.”

Spence noted that the survey found that 75 per cent of Albertans would use a provincial adult fitness tax credit if one was available, with higher-income Albertans more likely to use the fitness tax credit than lower-income Albertans. “This suggests that a fitness tax credit might be one means of promoting more physical activity for higher-income Albertans, but that other or additional measures or approaches should be considered for lower-income Albertans.”

This type of regular survey can help to discover and address some of the barriers that prevent people from being more physically active, said Berry. “For instance, participants were asked about their access to places they can be physically active. We found that almost 35 per cent did not have easy access. This raises questions about facilities and infrastructure and how we could promote more or easier access for more people.”

Judith Down, director of the Alberta Centre for Active Living, suggested the biennial survey is used by a wide range of groups and stakeholders. She also noted that much work remains to be done by “communities and organizations at all levels” to boost the physical activity levels of all Albertans. 

“We can do more to create environments that are supportive of physical activity in our communities, schools, workplaces, seniors’ facilities and many other settings. Strong public-policy efforts must be a priority, along with other supports that allow Albertans to achieve the nationally recommended amount of physical activity for health benefits.” 

The Alberta Centre for Active Living is a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and funded by the Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation. 

The Concise Report associated with the 2011 Alberta Survey on Physical Activity can be accessed online at www.centre4activeliving.ca.

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