Innovative free fitness program targets Victoria Royals fans

Program shows impressive results during follow-ups with the men who participate

Three men from Sarnia participate in a FIT session affiliated with the Sarnia Sting. (Photo courtesy of the Western University)

What do overweight men between the ages of 35 and 65 who root for the Victoria Royals have in common?

They qualify for Hockey Fans In Training, (Hockey FIT), a three-month, off-ice healthy lifestyle program that’s free for eligible participants as part of a federally-funded research study. The national program partners with local hockey teams, in this case, the Victoria Royals, in an innovative way to get fans involved in achieving a healthier lifestyle through weight loss and better living habits.

“Seventy per cent of Canadian men aged 35 to 65 are considered overweight or obese,” said Brendan Riggins, a scientist with the Centre of Studies in Family Medicine at Western University and head coach of the Hockey FIT program. The percentage of women considered overweight or obese is 46 per cent, compared to a rate of 62 per cent for men overall. Men also live four years less than women, on average, and are at a greater risk of getting diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

“That puts a cost of $37 billion a year on our health care system, and 70 per cent of those costs are preventable.”

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Research by Dr. Robert Petralla, a family physician and principal investigator with the Hockey FIT team, underlined the difficulties in getting men to participate in healthy lifestyle programs. Petrella is also head of family medicine at the University of British Columbia. “It’s tough to get them involved in the health care system,” Riggins noted.

“Often it’s not until there’s a health scare. That’s why we developed this innovative program.There’s not many like this out there that incorporates their passion for their local hockey team to get guys to be more active and eat better.”

The program involves 12 weekly sessions of 90 minutes duration that are conducted at the partnering team’s facilities.”The partnership with local teams is unique,” Riggins said. Personnel from the host team including players, coaches and trainers are involved in some of the sessions. “The venue and the exclusive behind the scenes access is a great draw.”

Darren Parker, vice-president of sales and marketing for the Victoria Royals, a Western Hockey League team, said the organization welcomes the opportunity.

“We’re very excited about being involved in the program,” Parker said. “Fitness is a large part of the industry we’re in, and this will have benefits that extend into the community. It’s a very cool initiative, and we want to show our support by involving Royals personnel.”

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The results of a pilot project that partnered with the Windsor Spitfires and London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League showed the program works, Riggins said.

“Guys lost an average of 10 pounds in 12 weeks. What’s most encouraging is that they maintained the weight loss and showed improvements in other health-related areas like blood pressure in follow-ups nine months after they completed the program.”

Funding is provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Institutes of Research.

“They made it possible to offer it for free across the country,” Riggins said. “We couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

Riggins is asked frequently about a similar program for women hockey fans. “We are absolutely developing something for women,” he added, although the timeline has not yet been established.

The deadline for men to register is April 15. Visit hockeyfansintraining.org to register or for more information, and HealtheSteps.ca for tips on better living.

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com


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