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RED January fitness program puts fun ahead of stern resolutions | CBC Sports



Are we far enough into January that our 2024 fitness resolutions are beginning to wobble?

Maybe this is the year to acknowledge that we aren’t to blame. Maybe resolutions themselves are the problem.  

That was Hannah Beecham’s insight back in 2016. The U.K. woman noticed that her mother’s mental health was suffering, so she started taking daily walks with her. That simple action boosted her mother’s spirits and fitness, and Rise Every Day, aka RED January, was born.

Eight years later, more than 200,000 Britons have taken part in the national public health campaign. There are no lofty resolutions, no doomed-to-fail goals; just a notion to get moving in an enjoyable way each day.

Canada is the first country outside the U.K. to get on board the month-long movement for mental and physical health.

RED January stands on two simple pillars. First, lasting gains are more likely if you enjoy what you’re doing. Anything goes, as long as you move your body each day in a way that’s your idea of fun. If running, swimming, or weights are not your bag, RED’s inclusive spirit suggests walking to the store, vacuuming with vigour, turning up the radio and busting some dance moves. It’s all good. It’s all movement. It all counts.

Second, try to rope in a partner. Getting others to join you in this month of movement doesn’t just boost your own chances of success. Companionship of any kind works wonders for mental health.

“There’s such a huge disconnect between how people are being sold what physical activity is, or what counts, versus what really counts,” Janet Omstead, director of RED January Canada, said. “People think it has to be hard or it has to hurt. 

“We know how athletes train, but that’s  0.1 per cent of the population. The average person isn’t even getting 20 minutes a day. That’s not cool. RED January shows people how 20 minutes can be broken up into five minute segments. And more importantly, connect with someone as you move, for your social and your physical well-being. That’s helping two crises, inactivity and social isolation.”

RED January Canada has enlisted a number of champions and influencers. One of them is Sasha Gollish. The high-performance runner is also a director in the mental health and physical activities research centre in kinesiology at University of Toronto. 

“Elite athletes know that having a workout buddy makes us more accountable, and it also makes it way more fun,” Gollish said.

She sees value in the daily effort, especially when enthusiasm runs low.

“Just going through the motions one day sets you up to be motivated another day. If you’re always waiting for the perfect motivation, we know that is neither sustainable, nor realistic,” she said. “I sort of love the slogan: make real changes, not new year’s resolutions.”

So if it’s not about resolutions, why January? Winter months can be a slog for anyone trying to be healthy and active. Reduced hours of sunlight contribute to lowered motivation levels, and the dark and icy outdoors present safety concerns too. Fifty per cent of Canadians report feeling lonely regularly, while 64 per cent say they are inactive in winter months.

“Exercise is often the first thing to get moved to the bottom of the to-do list,” said Omstead, a fitness instructor and author. “People struggle with finding the time to exercise, and it becomes more of a chore or an obligation. Yet movement is one of the most fundamental pieces of health because physical activity is a magic pill for thriving.

“RED January starts your year right by encouraging you to move your way every day and find a friend, neighbour or coworker to do it with you. It’s simple, free to join and fun.”

Canadian kickoff

RED January, which is partnered with the GenWell Project, is well in the comfort zone of CBC Sports host Scott Russell. 

“I’ve long believed that physical activity is fundamental to personal well being,” Russell said. “The motivation to move often comes through a connection with kindred people. I think RED January embodies the spirit of building healthier and happier communities for all.” 

Polar Bear Scott Russell gets in the swim of RED January. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

Gollish says she gets RED by regularly holding walking meetings.

“It helps get me up from my desk and connect with colleagues in a different way. It’s a change I’m taking forward into 2024.”

Omstead leans into behaviour change. 

“New Year’s Resolutions aren’t necessarily helpful. RED January is an approachable way to boost your ongoing health. If people move their own way, every day for a month, real behaviour change can begin. Changing habits every day, even a little bit, snowballs into bigger and bigger health benefits.”

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