Mon | Oct 15, 2018

No time for healthy living - Jamaicans know exercise important but most can't fit it into their days

Published:Monday | November 21, 2016 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Early morning joggers at Emancipation Park, New Kingston.

Jamaicans almost universally believe in the value of physical activity to their health and more than two-thirds of them say they regularly engage in some form of recreation.

Yet, across all age groups, people do not seem to believe they are doing enough.

These are among the findings of a recent Gleaner-commissioned survey of health care in Jamaica.

The survey results, in addition to the apparent willingness of Jamaicans, with the right motivation, to hit the walking trails and running tracks, are likely to be encouraging to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton.

Tufton, over the summer, launched an initiative to get people exercising in order to combat the country's growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

"Many NCDs are directly related to physical inactivity," Tufton told parliamentarians in June.

"Twenty-one to 25 per cent of breast and colon cancers; 27 per cent of diabetes; and 30 per cent of heart diseases are all directly linked to the lifestyle of the patient."

The survey, conducted in September by pollster Bill Johnson, was commissioned by The Gleaner with the support of the National Health Fund. A representative sample of 1,200 people aged 18 and over were interviewed.

The survey found that 95 per cent of Jamaicans agreed that exercise was important to their health and it didn't matter their age or gender.

But when it came to the actual business of exercise, there was a 26 percentage-point gap between those who appreciated its value and the 69 per cent who said they were regular exercisers.

Twenty-nine per cent said they didn't engage in any exercise at all.

Men (77 per cent) are more likely than women (62 per cent) to exercise regularly, a fact that didn't surprise nutritionist Dr Joy Callender.

"Times have changed," Callender told The Gleaner.

"No longer are women at home with their primary function being that of caregiving and preparing meals. Now, they are in the workplace like the men, and everybody gets tired, and it goes downhill from there."

Indeed, when people were asked why they didn't exercise, by far the greatest deterrent (among 57 per cent in the category) was the lack of time, compared to 19 per cent who said they lacked motivation and 18 per cent who complained of illness or injury.

The time issue was common among men and women and across all age groups, being at its peak (65 per cent) in the 25-34 age segment, and only slightly lower (62 per cent) among those between 35 and 44. Among older people, injury and illness or the lack of motivation were the main reasons for not exercising.

While they may engage in multiple activities, walking is the preferred form of exercise for most (68 per cent) Jamaicans, followed by running/jogging at 26 per cent.