Sites show surfers how to get in the game

Googling sports and recreation information in Ottawa may result in a workout for more than just your fingertips.

Recognizing that Internet usage is ever-increasing, sports and fitness promoters have been turning to alternative web-based strategies to get people out of their office chairs and onto the sports field.

It appears to be working.

The Active 2010 strategy is one example of this web-based approach. The Ontario government initiative aims to increase the number of active people in the province to 55 per cent by 2010.

According to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyles Research Institute, more than half of Canadians are physically inactive. Gary Wheeler from the Ministry of Health Promotion uses Statistics Canada data to measure physical activity.

So far, it shows a two per cent increase in physical activity in Ontario since 2001.

Wheeler says this steady increase in activity can be attributed to online promotion of the Active 2010 initiative.

 “We feel so far that the work we’re doing is paying off,” he says. “More people are active now than they were before the strategy was implemented.”

But the website still has some growing pains to stretch out.

The Active 2010 website lists the names of around 60 sporting facilities in the greater Ottawa area, most of which have links to the City of Ottawa website rather than those of the facilities.

Steve Nason, director of programs at the Dovercourt Recreation Centre, says he wonders how the extensively funded government web-based programs can effectively reach their target market if promotion of the website is poor.

Even he is only just discovering it, and Dovercourt Recreation Centre is listed on the site.

“I have had an opportunity to look at the Active 2010 website and found Dovercourt listed,” he says. “It appears the listing is really just a listing of recreation facilities in the city of Ottawa where anyone can ‘get active’.”

As the website alone is not enough to get people playing sports, the Ministry of Health Promotion says it is running a number of other sports promotion platforms, such as the Communities in Action Fund. This fund provides grants to community sports facilities.

Ottawa’s Somali Centre for Family Services received $21,000 according to the Fund’s website. Abdirizak Karod, executive director of the centre, says this has allowed the centre to rent sporting facilities. Here, they run soccer and basketball programs as well as ski trips for Somalis in the community.

Patty Allen, heath promoter at Carleton University’s Health and Counseling and Services, says she recognizes the newfound significance of the pro-sports messages being spread on the Internet.

She also notes the importance of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have been increasing in popularity.

“It’s a really great avenue for any form of health promotion,” Allen says.

“We have to recognize that social networking is huge. It’s where people are, and we have to go there if we want to engage people.”

While slumping behind a computer screen might not make you break a sweat like a good game of hockey, Allen says that increasing the volume of messages promoting sports participation on multiple platforms is the key to success.

“We can give people all the information, but it doesn’t necessarily transfer into a change of behaviour,” she says.

“What people need is a multiple approach, and they need to be bombarded many times from all directions.”

Nason says it is too early to determine the success of this new web-based approach. Yet he hopes that the Internet will promote a positive attitude towards sports worldwide.

 “Their efforts should be considered principally as one in a number of initiatives the government and others are taking to promote better health for Canadians.”