Saskatchewan cities that are 'active-living' friendly

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 2, 2018 6:00 a.m.

How 'active-friendly' is your city? A collaborative research project compares Saskatchewan's urban centres. (l-r)  Oluwasegun Hassan, a PhD student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Cathie Kryzanowski, Executive Director of Saskatchewan in motion and Dr. Katya Herman, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.
How 'active-friendly' is your city? A collaborative research project compares Saskatchewan's urban centres. (l-r) Oluwasegun Hassan, a PhD student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Cathie Kryzanowski, Executive Director of Saskatchewan in motion and Dr. Katya Herman, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

If you feel you don’t exercise enough, you’re not alone.

But for urban dwellers thinking of a good excuse for not working out enough, how about blaming the design of the community you live in?

Look around your neighbourhood and beyond, is your part of the world ‘active-living’ friendly?

Research by a team from the University of Regina, University of British Columbia and Saskatchewan in motion has examined a series of physical indicators included in the official community plans (OCPs) of Saskatchewan’s cities.  

“Physical activity has for most people now become a “choice,” and unfortunately it is a choice that is not always easy for many people,” says Dr. Katya Herman, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Director of the U of R's Physical Activity Epidemiology Lab. “Healthy public policy has a large role to play in making the healthy choice the easy choice, in this case referring to opportunities for people to engage in healthy, active lifestyles.”

Herman is a co-author of Active Living in Saskatchewan: A review of official community plans, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

The lead author is Oluwasegun Hassan, a PhD student in the U of R’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.

Other research contributors are Cathie Kryzanowski, Executive Director of Saskatchewan in motion, an organization promoting active lifestyles for children and youth, and Dr. Guy Faulkner, Professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of the Population Physical Activity Lab at UBC.

The team reviewed the official community plans of 17 Saskatchewan cities with populations greater than 4500, “to identify policies supportive of physical activity,” according to the research paper.

Using 17 physical activity indicators, the team found that more than half of the OCPs included residential plans incorporating active living, and downtown cycling and pedestrian plans.

However, most cities’ plans (about 65 per cent) did not directly mention increasing or promoting physical activity or active living.

Other physical activity indicators included pedestrian, cycling, recreation, and connectivity master plans as well as plans and policy statements associated with active living such as open spaces for parks and recreational activities.

Regina’s OCP fared above average, including 65 per cent of the physical activity indicators. Saskatoon came in at 52 per cent.

In ranking other cities, the team found that Yorkton came out on top with 82 per cent followed by Prince Albert at 71 per cent of physical activity indicators included in their OCPs.

“Yorkton has a reputation in Saskatchewan for faring well when it comes to healthy public policy and attention being paid to promoting and enabling active lifestyles among its residents,” says Kryzanowski. “A lot of this comes down to leadership. Strong community advocates together with the support of members of council, city planning and community development helped to foster municipal policy with a health promotion mindset.”

The research shows there’s room for improvement for most of Saskatchewan’s cities.

“The study may aid various community action groups and stakeholders in setting priorities for future strategic planning that are directed toward the development of more active communities across Saskatchewan,” says Faulkner. “Active communities are healthier communities.”

The research paper points out that "obesity may be partly ascribed to environmental factors" and the surveys support that conclusion.

As of 2017, Saskatchewan had the highest rate of obesity among Canadian provinces.

According to Saskatchewan in motion, fewer than 15 per cent of Saskatchewan children and youth get the 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity they need.

Nationally, the 2016 ParticipACTION report card found that fewer than 10 per cent of children and youth meet these physical activity guidelines.

Furthermore, only 15 per cent of adults in Canada are getting the recommended 150 minutes weekly physical activity needed, according to Statistics Canada.

Making room for ‘active-living’ communities might help improve those numbers.

For Oluwasegun Hassan, originally from Nigeria, working on this project has given him a greater appreciation and understanding of Saskatchewan.

“No other studies have analyzed public policies aimed at improving physical activity within Canadian OCPs.  As an international student, it was interesting being involved in the study, and particularly rewarding knowing more about various Saskatchewan communities,” says Hassan.

The U of R study was funded by Saskatchewan in motion.

Curious about more details on how your city performed in the study? Please visit here to read the report.