Gateway to better health and resilience

Physical literacy helps motivate people to stay active, Susan Jurbala writes

Older adults are a bigger part of our society than ever — for the first time, there are more Canadians over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. We all need to be concerned about maintaining a good quality of life into our older years but unfortunately only 15 per cent of Canadian adults meet national physical activity recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. With inactivity, the risks of disease including diabetes, obesity, heart disease and osteoporosis increase. How can we help older Canadians be more active and stay healthy longer?

Developing and maintaining something called “physical literacy” can be the gateway to increased physical activity and a key to resilience — helping to reduce the effects of falls, injuries and illness. Physical literacy means having the movement skills, confidence in one’s ability to move and motivation to stay active. It means learning not just movement skills, but the cognitive skills to know how and when to move.

Fortunately, the necessary skills and abilities can be learned at any age. Sport for Life, a Canadian organization promoting quality sport and physical literacy, has developed a resource called “Active for Life: Durable by Design” that outlines eight key factors: appropriate physical activity, cognitive function, psychological well-being, social connection, embracing life transitions, managing chronic conditions, mindful nutrition and durability by design.

Through improved physical literacy, individuals are better able to recognize how to react in all situations and avoid certain kinds of injury (e.g. falls, which are more likely when an individual loses balance and strength). Physically literate individuals are also motivated to be more active. This provides a protective effect — a more physically literate, more active person will be both healthier and better able to recover from physical setbacks, such as an injury, and return to activity sooner — in other words to be more resilient, and therefore more durable.

A shift in thinking is needed. To start, a deeper appreciation for the important role that physical activity can play in promoting health needs to be developed. But it’s not just about avoiding ill-health, since physical activity can also enhance brain function and help build and sustain social connections. Basically, physical literacy can help us be more active, and physical activity that makes us more durable is essential to successful aging.

The Physical Literacy for Older Adults Collaborative Project 2017-19 is a partnership with the City of St. Catharines, Niagara Region, Age-Friendly Niagara Network, Sport for Life and Sunnybrook Health Sciences and funded by the Ontario Sport and Recreation Community Fund. The focus is on training over 150 community leaders, health care professionals, exercise specialists and care providers to use a physical literacy-based approach in an older adult population as it relates to increasing physical activity, reducing chronic disease and improving health. An awareness campaign will be created to educate our older adults on the importance of physical literacy as well.

For more information, please contact Susan Jurbala, project lead Sport for Life, at or 289 646-9397.

Susan Jurbala is a Sport for Life project manager for the Physical Literacy for Older Adults initiative. She has worked extensively developing physical literacy in communities across Ontario.

Source: Niagara This Week