How many times have you been told to exercise more, to eat a little healthier or to sleep a little longer? And how many times have you actually got out there and done it? Probably not as often as you’d like.
Healthy changes are hard. So, what can we do to make them easier?
Since 2008, Connected in Motion (CIM) has been developing an experiential health education model to help adults with Type 1 diabetes get more active. As an organization, we realized early on that in order to create lasting change––for individuals to actually integrate activity into their everyday lives––there needs to be a change in the way we educate about healthy living. Over the years, we’ve talked to people, we’ve tried new methods out and we’ve learned a few things.
Learn by Doing
By taking the lessons we’ve learned about active living (be them from the doctors we visit, the magazines we read or the friends with whom we share stories) and practicing them, we can learn what works for us and adopt these lessons into our own lifestyles.
We have seen this story relived countless times throughout our community. Take Virtue, CIM’s Community Manager and social media guru, for example. Virtue has never considered herself an athlete or a lover of the outdoors. She never would have thought of signing herself up for a race or joining a sports league on her own, but she knew that being active was incredibly important for her health. She just hadn’t quite found a way to make it work for her lifestyle.
After finding the CIM community, though, her perspective has changed. She saw people trying new things and focusing on the process of being active instead of the product. No one cared who finished first or, really, if anyone finished at all. Instead, she had connected with a community who just simply enjoyed… doing. Virtue’s outlook changed and she began trying all sorts of new activities.
Since getting involved with the CIM community 3 years ago, Virtue has run her first 5K, she has paddled her first canoe and slept in her first tent. Virtue has played beach volleyball and trampoline dodgeball. She found a passion for recreational lacrosse and reacquainted herself with swimming. Today, Virtue doesn’t have to think about being active. She has learned to make it a way of life. Just like Hank has found a passion for cross-training, Steph for spin cycling and Sarah for dragon boating. The difference was in the support to get out there and try something new.
Community is Key
Individuals are far more likely to work towards pursuing their goals and stick to them if they are supported by a community who has been there, done that––a community who gets it.
Jill wasn’t always active in her diabetes self-care management. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes thirteen years ago, she spent much of that time feeling overwhelmed by the disease. That started to change when she joined the Connected in Motion community. Seeing others actively involved in their diabetes management inspired Jill to take more of an interest in her own care.
After coming out to events for about a year, Jill quietly disclosed to a couple of her diabetes peers on one of our canoe trips that she had signed up to run her first 5K. She felt nervous about the goal and had doubts she could make it, but the community supported her. Two community members signed up for the same event so that Jill would not have to run it alone, and they kept in touch leading up to the race in order to trade training notes. On the day of the event, not only did those two members run the entire 5K with Jill, but members of the community came out to cheer them on to the finish line.
After the race, Jill signed up for another 5K and joined a gym. In the words of her mom, Jacqueline, CIM’s community of support has taken Jill “from sitting on the couch feeling overwhelmed with her diabetes, to accepting her diagnosis, taking charge of her diabetes management and getting active and fit so she can have a healthy and engaging life today and into the future.”
These lessons have formed what we call the Slipstream Model. You’ve probably seen it before: a group of cyclists tucking in behind the leader of the pack or a gaggle of geese flying in ‘V’ formation. It’s physics, really––creating a path of least resistance for the group but taking turns in the lead. It’s the idea that together we can travel further, move faster and be stronger than we can on our own.
With the support of our peers, we can take the lessons that we have learned about being healthy and active and integrate those lessons into our everyday lives. We can learn to embrace being active through trial and error, without fear of failure, because we know the group is behind us and with us all the way.
We have big goals for 5 years from now, and even bigger goals within 10. By 2019, we envision a country where active living is not limited by diabetes or chronic disease. We see non-clinical, peer-based support integrated throughout the diabetes education model, creating a more holistic approach to people’s care. We see a country of active, healthy Canadians.
Right now, we see Canada’s healthcare model treating people individually. Within 10 years, we envision the experiential health education model becoming a staple within our healthcare system. We see a time in the not so distant future where the entire country is experiencing the Slipstream––a whole nation moving further, faster and stronger together toward its health and active living goals.
Editor’s Note: Jen Hanson is the Executive Director of Connected in Motion. She is also a participant of The Play Exchange, an online challenge to find and support innovative ideas promoting healthy and active living across Canada.
Follow #PlayExchange on Twitter for competition news and current trends in innovation, and check out the Facebook page to become part of the conversation.