Commentary

Looking from the Inside Out: Hamilton Health and Fitness

With motivation, perseverance, a little bit of inspiration and a simple desire to improve the health of our community, together we can turn Hamilton into one of the healthiest and fittest communities in Canada.

By Cheryl Hills
Published August 09, 2012

Those who have never lived in Hamilton see us simply as a Steeltown, yet Hamilton is far richer than what most would surmise on first discovery. When I found myself moving here from Mississauga 17 years ago, my own apprehension quickly turned to awe.

Image credit: Cheryl Hills
Image credit: Cheryl Hills

Aside from the remarkable geographical uniqueness of the escarpment deftly carving the city into upper and lower sections, Hamilton is rich in culture, heritage and community activities. Each neighbourhood is a veritable beehive of community activity.

Local artists, restaurateurs, musicians, and entrepreneurs celebrate their city and share their talents through their craft and contribute to the health of the community of Hamilton.

Is it surprising that a city which is host to the world's oldest bike race is also a veritable haven for fitness aficionados? Definitely not, if you are looking from the inside out.

Obesity in Hamilton

Hamilton boasts no less than 40 community recreational centres and arenas. Sports organizations include everything from competitive jump rope teams and circus stars training to soccer and football and everything in between.

According to the Hamilton Economic Development website, there are 495 sport organizations in Hamilton and are 187 fitness clubs in Hamilton, not to mention the dozens of charity and other organized community fitness events that are held in Hamilton every year.

You would think that with all of these fitness opportunities, Hamilton would rank among one of the fittest communities in Canada. Yet canadafacts.org lists Hamilton at number three on the Fattest Cities list at 34.6 percent obesity.

You don't need a government agency to tell you what you can clearly see: obesity is on the rise. And you don't need me or anyone else telling you why physical activity and healthy eating is a recommended lifestyle. These are facts that we already know.

Clearly, we need to get more of our citizens off the couch and involved in a recreational activity. I believe that health and fitness are important to the growth and success of a vibrant community and city. When a city's citizens are healthy, the city is healthy.

Yet as with all great ideas and lofty goals, the first requirement is motivation to take action. Hamilton has the infrastructure in place. Now we need to motivate our citizens to take that first step and get out and just do it (to borrow a phrase).

The Challenge

Why should you embrace a new healthy lifestyle? Simple: it's fun and it will bring happiness and personal achievement to your life.

My goal is to see Hamilton listed at number three on the Fittest Cities list. As a small business owner living and working in Hamilton, I am committed to developing services that will promote a healthy lifestyle. I welcome and challenge all entrepreneurs and business owners in Hamilton to do the same.

Start small by promoting and implementing a healthy approach in your workplace:

With motivation, perseverance, a little bit of inspiration and a simple desire to improve the health of our community, together we can turn Hamilton into one of the healthiest and fittest communities in Canada.

Cheryl Hills is the owner of a graphic design business that specializes in providing complete graphic design solutions to the fitness industry in Hamilton.

18 Comments

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By Anne Marie (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 14:05:36

I love this idea; I just take issue with the idea that obesity is linked to lack of fitness. You really can't tell by looking at a person how fit they are - there are plenty of skinny couch potatoes and plenty of fit fat people (I count myself among them).

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 14:16:00

You missed perhaps the most important point: encouraging people to integrate fitness into their everyday activities by using active transportation. (And, by extension, encouraging the city to make planning decisions that promote rather than hindering active transportation.)

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By Graefe (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 14:55:23 in reply to Comment 79633

I agree John. We have a timid cycling master plan, but that nevertheless would make cycling a much more attractive possibility, and council decides to take 20 years to implement it. In fact, it looks like they are not even on pace to do it in twenty years given the slow implementation to date (which presumably is the low hanging fruit!).

We still can't even get crosswalks on all sides of the intersection at King and Dundurn!

Individual level actions are important, but the built environment of where we live and work is crucial, and city council is too suburban dominated to even know where to start.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2012 at 15:11:58

At a glance, that obesity list almost directly correlates to wealth. The skinny cities are the capitals of the economy, and the fat cities are post-industrial run-down cities like Hamilton and the Shwa.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2012 at 21:35:24 in reply to Comment 79635

At a glance, that obesity list almost directly correlates to wealth.

Bingo: I think that the correlation between income+education and weight is pretty well documented (we're talking averages and trends here, of course).

One even sees the same trend amongst staff at McMaster, where _everyone_ makes at least a decent wage, can afford good food and has plenty of leisure time: hourly workers and clerical staff are heavier on average than professional staff (who generally have bachelor's or master's degrees and are paid more) who are heavier on average than faculty (with Ph.Ds and yet larger salaries).

Which is to say that it's not just that poor people can't afford veggies and bikes and so they get fatter than do middle class people, with their veggies and bikes, who in turn are fatter than the rich, who can afford the most veggies and the best bikes.

Hamilton's relative obesity is not directly related to Hamilton or its services or facilities: it's primarily a reflection of the demographics. Within those bounds, there's only so much tweaking to be done on a municipal scale.

Edit:

The correlation between education and obesity is much stronger in women than men, according to one study (see http://www.usatoday.com/yourlife/fitness...

Though my own observation within the broadly-defined "middle class" is that it holds for men, too. The stereotype of the skinny shirtless punk and his chubby girlfriend notwithstanding (see King & James on any warm day).

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-08-09 22:10:20

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By Cheesecake Truck (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 15:52:12

That obesity ranking is around five years old, so it's due for an update. It'll be interesting to see where Hamilton winds up.

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By mountain goat (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 16:50:24 in reply to Comment 79636

lol, love your handle, given the topic!

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 16:08:20

Is it surprising that a city which is host to the world's oldest bike race is also a veritable haven for fitness aficionados? Definitely not, if you are looking from the inside out.

Wait, which bike race are you referring to? Are we hosting another one?

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By Hope4Hamilton (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 19:40:44

Obesity is a far more complex issue than the Lister Block, Red Hill Expressway, or the City Hall renovation ever were. It is completely and one hundred percent related to the socioeconomic status of the majority of Hamilton's citizens. To address something that broad and intricate takes all three levels of government working in partnership with the private sector, a rare and almost impossible combination. One would hope that the gentrification that has taken place in areas such as the Kirkendall neighbourhood, and James Street North (to a certain and debatable extent) would take place in other areas in Hamilton to slowly reverse this overwhelming tide of gluttony.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted August 11, 2012 at 08:39:07 in reply to Comment 79641

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By TheDevilIsInTheSteel (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2012 at 19:49:17

Let's start with the removal and recovery of the factory lands littered on Hamilton's harbour instead of celebrating the small-headed ideas of a select few on City Council, who fight for their own preservation to sit like fat cats for decades while refusing to move this city forward, such as the expansion of William's Coffee Pub, and Sarcoa. You want to set a new standard of health and wellness in a city where cheap and fat foods rule for people living in the Hamilton's North and East Ends that live on average twenty years less than those in Ancaster, far and safe from the toxins and disgusting practices of an industry long dead and kept alive by; those who earned pensions and paycheques for above and beyond anything they should have ever achieved for the actual effort it took them to acquire the position, and those on City Council who are either retired "labour folk" or those white collars that figure it is best to bow to the will of those pensioners who take the time to vote rather than inspire citizen participation on the part of those deflated and select few who are the healthiest and wealthiest for having given up on an idea of a better Hamilton and focused on their own personal growth and facilitating the best life they can in a jungle of pollution, failed ideas and pseudo enthusiasm.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted August 09, 2012 at 22:11:50

Hamilton's relative obesity is not directly related to Hamilton or its services or facilities: it's primarily a reflection of the demographics. Within those bounds, there's only so much tweaking to be done on a municipal scale.

And that said, I was out for a bike ride along the waterfront yesterday - just bunged up with people. I can't help but think that the waterfront trail hasn't made Hamilton just a little thinner.

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By Monoceros (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 07:48:25 in reply to Comment 79644

ALthough we were careful to throw in a trolley and an ice cream stand as failsafes.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 09:57:41

Not sure where to start on this one. As a bit of a fitness freak, my opinion puts a lot more burden on the individual rather than the community. Which, in many cases, goes against many of my usual viewpoints.

That said, having worked in damn-near every occupational category, I would say that unskilled (but somewhat automated) jobs as well as anything involving shift work makes it exceptionally difficult to integrate a fitness regiment into the schedule.

I'm not saying its impossible, but I'd wager a strong correlation between these kinds of jobs and obesity. Layer on the fact that, stereotypically, these are also areas where image-consciousness may be less of a motivating component.

I'm less inclined to believe that lower income (by definition ) means less access to nutritious food and exercise. Veggies are generally pretty affordable. And, eating at a grocery store salad bar, for me, is about the same price as a typical McDonald's meal.

I also know that it doesn't cost me a whole lot to go for a run or do a pile of burpees.

Alas, when you're unhappy in your job, home, neighbourhood, town, situation - you generally don't care about yourself. So, if any one of these are prevalent in a community, there's probably a good chance you'll see some rolls.

Optimistically, working in a creative industry (advertising) seems to correlate with physical fitness. Where I work, a pretty significant number of people regularly attend boot camps, play competitive sports, or are regular gym rats. My theory is being able to express (even minimally) our inherent desire as humans to be creative leads to higher life-satisfaction scores. Hence, the desire for personal improvement.

The continuing growth of the arts in Hamilton -- and hopefully more jobs in creative fields -- will result in a more physically fit city.

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By Subbacultcha (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 11:55:27 in reply to Comment 79650

A theory of my own: Is it possible that, even aside from your stated bias as "a bit of a fitness freak", advertising might be an outlier in the creative industries?

After all, and please correct me here if I'm being reductive, this is a sector that deals in appearances, perception, aspirational goals, brand equity and holistic messaging. Moreover, it seems (from the outside) to be a pretty driven field in many regards, one that was competitive enough before the recession hit. That competition, whether inside firms or between firms, seems as if it might lead to a performance arms race. Hence the boot camps/competitive sports.

I don't know if you'd find that among other creative workers (eg. architects, fashion designers, writers, radio hosts, software engineers, web designers, animators, film editors) to the same degree. Not that I'm suggesting that any of those groups are inherently lardy 'n' lazy. (There are certainly more than a few bands made up of nothing but jocks, for example.) Just that their innate culture, when and if it becomes a group pursuit, may be more keyed to collaboration than competition.

"My theory is being able to express (even minimally) our inherent desire as humans to be creative leads to higher life-satisfaction scores. Hence, the desire for personal improvement."

Not to be cheeky, but is it possible that achieving greater life-satisfaction might reduce the drive for self-improvement? (eg. What if you fervently believed that "Big Is Beautiful"?)

Alternately, how might we determine whether life-dissatisfaction is a consequence or determinant
of inappropriate eating behaviour/negative body image?

I agree that it's a complex dynamic, but Hamiltonians are blessed with an abundance of great trails that provide low- to no-cost opportunities to restore balance to mind and body.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 12:31:37 in reply to Comment 79652

Solid points, all 'round...especially regarding the ad-game's immersion in image and perception. That said, day-to-day, I'm not sure if the average solider in the industry is living and breathing the final product as many might think. But, the daily routine is much more invigorating, fun, and casual than average white-collar desk work. Generally speaking.

Perhaps, it's more the make up of people who are attracted to the ad industry - not sure. And, of course, where I currently work could certainly be an anomaly. (At one time there were 3 boxers in a staff of 50.)

I would still think, despite the long hours and sedentary lifestyle often led (or demanded) by other creative fields -- no offence, but film editors come to mind -- it still seems that anything remotely art-related results consciousness of image.

That's not always healthy -- but, often it still leads people to the gym. And, net-net, if you look good, you feel good...and, vice-versa.

I definitely think life-dissatisfaction does determine poor nutrition. Dissatisfied people in seemingly good situations often turn to poor nutrition as an escape -- so, they may not actively seek the nature trails that could inspire/ refresh/ reinvigorate.

And, I'd hazard a guess that those who mutter "I don't even care anymore" a lot, probably don't give much second thought to that drive-thru window.

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By apineda (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 10:05:59

Good post :)
I think my job is to share the body transformation challenge with people!
http://www.reddit.com/r/BTFC/

also:
http://www.reddit.com/r/loseit
http://www.reddit.com/r/fitness
www.fitocracy.com

Find me @brainyweb :)

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By Rimsh (anonymous) | Posted August 10, 2012 at 16:00:22

http://www.amazon.ca/Chubster-Hipsters-Losing-Weight-Staying/dp/0547559348

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