Study shoots, scores healthier lifestyles

Illustration by Frank Neufeld

Family Medicine professor Rob Petrella, and his colleagues from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Faculty of Health Sciences, have launched a pilot project called Hockey Fit to motivate sports fans to get into shape and live healthier lifestyles.

One Western researcher is enticing overweight males to get healthy with something he feels is part of their everyday DNA – hockey.

With 40 per cent tipping the scales a tad too high, the risk factors for chronic diseases – like heart disease and diabetes – are at their highest and the sedentary lifestyle of these sports-loving males is not helping.

Family Medicine professor Rob Petrella, and his colleagues from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Faculty of Health Sciences, have launched a pilot project called Hockey Fit to motivate sports fans to get into shape and live healthier lifestyles.

By using team sports as the motivation, Hockey Fit, one of 15 Canada-wide projects funded through a Men’s Health & Wellbeing Challenge Grant from the Movember Foundation, will recruit men at the greatest risk for poor health and provide them with the skills and tools to lose weight.

“Our goal is to create momentum and excitement around men’s health and associate it with club-based sports,” said Petrella, medical director of the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Western.“We know hockey is the bread and butter of the male psyche in Canada, so we are looking forward to partnering with Ontario Hockey League teams here in southwestern Ontario.”

Petrella has been conducting research in exercise and healthy living intervention for a number of years. While studies have done very well in getting women involved, they’ve done a lousy job at getting men involved.

“Men tend not to congregate around this healthy living things for a number of reasons. There’s the masculine framework of guys thinking big is strong and exercise is kind of feminine, or they’re busy and out in the workforce,” Petrella said. “But they need to know they are double the risk of chronic disease than women as they get older.”

Men want to do things together where they feel they are having fun and don’t have to worry about what they look like, where they can bug each other with jokes about how they’re doing and just simply feel comfortable, Petrella added.

“One placed that was happening was around hockey. So, why not get something going with a local hockey club?” he said, noting a colleague in Scotland ran a similar program around soccer.

Getting the London Knights and Sarnia Sting involved was not a hard sell. The training staff with the two teams, made up of kinesiologists, physical therapists and athletic trainers, are at the top of their game in how to get people active and healthy.

Petrella will work with the team’s training staff who will provide the men with ways to improve their lifestyles, including creating personalized health and nutrition plans and leading them through sports-based training exercises.

A randomized trial with 120 participants – 60 in each community – will come together as a group, beginning March 1, for the 12-month program. Once a week, for 12 straight weeks, the men will take part in a 90-minute session.

“We’ll be giving them more and more skills as we go through the final part of the program in order for them to continue to do this once we’ve stopped the program,” Petrella said. “We will then continue to follow them to find out how well they are doing after 12 months.”

Once this pilot has been implemented, Petrella aims to expand this model across Canada in partnership with other junior and professional hockey teams and university-based sports.

“It’s a change for life,” Petrella said. “They’re going to identify with these teams, and perhaps will want to join a club or start their own group to play sports. It’s really up to them; we’re giving them all the skills they need to do it.

“Being in this environment, where they want to be and are having fun, is enough to get them going in a positive direction. Most of them will need long-term support, but maybe they’ll start internally motivating those around them, like friends and family. It’s a behavioural change. It’s not simple or quick; they’ll really have to work at it.”