Campaign encourages Manitobans who put active lifestyle on hold during pandemic to get back at it

A physician advocacy group is urging Manitobans to renew a focus on their physical health after over two years of a pandemic during which an active lifestyle may have been put on the back burner.

Doctors Manitoba says recent research it commissioned suggests many people indicated their health habits — physical activities such as exercise, diet, getting screened for medical issues and more — worsened since COVID-19 emerged in the province in March 2020.

Now, it’s launched an online campaign to provide tips and tools designed to help people get back on track and improve health and mental health.

University student Amber Perron said she began exercising at home during the pandemic, but her physical activity levels still dropped.

“I definitely wasn’t leaving the house as much,” Perron said. “I wasn’t going out on the weekends to go, like, tobogganing or anything like that I would normally do.”

Amber Perron says she started working out at home during the pandemic but did not visit her doctor as often as she normally would. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The president-elect of Doctors Manitoba says getting back on track doesn’t necessarily have to involve major changes right away.

“We also emphasize that even small steps like focusing on just one change to start with is a step in the right direction and can make a big difference in your health,” said Dr. Candace Bradshaw.

One small step includes getting routine medical checkups done.

“Some concerning things we’re seeing at this very moment is patients coming in and presenting later in stages of disease that we would have preferred to, of course, catch earlier, and the patients as well,” said Bradshaw. 

“That becomes an incredibly urgent rush for the health-care system right now to get urgent tests and get treatments moving along, to catch everybody up.”

That rush of people presenting with more acute illnesses and conditions is likely to continue exacerbating Manitoba’s surgery, procedure and diagnostic test backlog unless the province can open up more services, said Bradshaw.

“I think we’re just seeing maybe the beginning of a big crunch,” the doctor said.

Perron said she hasn’t been visiting her doctor as often in the past couple of years as she normally would.

“Not so much out of fear of COVID, but [I] just got really used to being at home and not really wanting to leave,” said Perron, who adds she plans to get back into routine annual doctor checkups.

Start small

Getting active again can help stave off certain illnesses, and Miguel Fictoria says the trick is to stay positive and focused on those benefits.

Miguel Fictoria is head trainer of the Sport Manitoba Fitness Centre Team. His advice: stay positive and start small. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“If you find that your fitness level is not what it used to be before, you can start with something as simple as a power walk, or like a light jog, or gaining more mobility, working on your flexibility, playing with your kids,” said Fictoria, head trainer of the Sport Manitoba Fitness Centre Team.

Kelly Einarson is an instructor of a stroller fitness class for new parents. Apart from breaking a sweat, Einarson said there is a benefit derived from just being together in a group class.

“New moms really need the support of each other and for all sorts of reasons — mental health and staying active helps,” said Einarson.

New moms sidestep and squat together during a stroller fitness class in Assiniboine Park on Friday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Lynne Opperman says she kept up with walking during the pandemic but wasn’t able to do something else she loved: go dancing on weekends.

“Sometimes it was only a couple of hours of dancing or an hour of dancing” pre-pandemic, she said. “But, I mean, you’re still getting out and exercising and being with other people.”

Opperman said she is glad to be getting back into it now with her husband on Saturday nights and hopes to go Fridays as well once the club they attend begins offering that option again.

“But for now, Saturday is just as good,” she said while on a walk with her dog in Assiniboine Park.

Lynne Opperman says she is excited to be back dancing with her husband again after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Doctors ‘need to take stock’ with patients

Bradshaw, a family physician, repeated that in addition to tools and tips available through the new Doctors Manitoba campaign, she is encouraging patients to get back into see their doctors if it’s been a while — and not only for physical health.

“You need to also come in and say, you know what, here’s the inventory, this is how I’m sleeping, this is how I’m eating, this is how I am functioning at work and at school, and I’m not doing well,” she said. 

Dr. Candace Bradshaw is president-elect of Doctors Manitoba, a physician advocacy group in the province. (Zoom)

“It doesn’t always mean that coming to the doctor means you have to walk away with a prescription. It can just mean that I need to take stock with you: what’s going on, how it’s affecting you, whether I need to follow up with you,” Bradshaw said.

“If we can start with maybe some basic, simple things like getting more fresh air or daylight, eating better, physical activity … then we’ll work from there.”

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