Rick Naylor – Great Health Project

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Through the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health, the Australian Government is providing funding under the Healthy Communities Initiative to support local government areas to deliver effective community-based physical activity and healthy eating programs.

As part of this initiative, Great Lakes Council recently announced Rick Naylor as the Healthy Communities Co-ordinator to deliver the Great Health Great Lakes project over the next 18 months in their local government area. Rick talks to us about the importance of this lifestyle program …

Tell us about the Great Health Great Lakes project:

The overall goal is to reduce lifestyle related chronic disease risk factors for people who are not predominantly in the full-time paid workforce within the Great Lakes local government area.

The project is focused on recognising and treating the causes of many chronic diseases, not just the symptoms. In so doing, we will be implementing a range of programs and activities designed to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviours and to improve dietary intake and food-related behaviours.

One of the over-arching characteristics of our project is that it aims to assist people to make realistic and sustainable changes to their behaviour and lifestyle – forever.  To achieve this, we’ll be encouraging people to get involved in a number of different programs and activities within the project, with each reinforcing and complementing the other.

For example, somebody may initially get involved in the project by joining a walking group, but then progress to a structured exercise program, a cycling class and then volunteer as a ‘bike-bus’ leader or get involved in the local community garden as a volunteer.

Which age demographic is the project targeting?

The project is concentrating primarily on adults who are not engaged in the full-time paid workforce and who may be at risk of developing a chronic condition or who have already been diagnosed with a condition that can be addressed through lifestyle changes.

We are also encouraging partners and family members of this target population to get involved, to ensure that the lifestyle changes we are promoting will be reinforced and supported in the home environment.

How are the Australian Diabetes Council, National Heart Foundation and Cycling Australia involved?

These organisations have established structured programs that we have elected to use in our project. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we will be implementing programs such as Beat It, Heart Foundation Walking and AustCycle in various locations throughout the Great Lakes.

In addition to these, we will also be conducting a program called Healthy Dads Healthy Kids, which was developed by a research team at Newcastle University, and Healthy Eating Activity and Lifestyle (HEAL), which was developed in partnership between the Macarthur Division of General Practice and Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA).

The project targets people who are not predominantly engaged in the full-time paid workforce who may be at risk of developing a chronic disease(s). Why is this?

The National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health acknowledges that many people within this target group may not have the ability to pursue a healthy lifestyle due to a range of barriers, one of which may be financial. This funding will enable us to provide a range of programs and activities at either no cost, or at low cost, to the participant to help address some of the lifestyle causes of chronic disease, by eliminating the financial barrier.

You’re an accredited exercise psychologist and recently completed a Masters in Clinical Science (Lifestyle Medicine). With these qualifications, it sounds like you’re serious about helping people improve their health for the long term …

I’ve worked with a wide cross-section of people in my private practice as an Exercise Physiologist and have also had prior experience in corporate health and the fitness industry.  In this time, I have seen a plethora of health programs that work really well for the short-term, but there are very few initiatives that I have seen which result in genuine long-term behaviour change and health improvements.

I have become disillusioned with the way in which ‘exercise’ and ‘diets’ have been promoted as optional extras to our lifestyle – such as, something that we should or could do if we had the time, money or motivation. I think it is vital that we promote physical activity and nutrition as embedded components of a healthy lifestyle, not just something we do each January as the result of a New Year’s resolution.

The Great Health Great Lakes project will promote this embedded health concept throughout all of its various programs and activities to reinforce the notion that physical activity and nutrition are much more holistic and sustainable than exercise and diet.

We don’t just want people to get excited and embrace the project for the next 18 months – we want them to use these programs and activities as the catalyst for long-term behaviour changes, which leads to improved and sustained health outcomes.

How can people participate in Great Health Great Lakes?

We are endeavouring to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved. Some people may be referred by their doctor, or others may sign up themselves.

There is no single gateway to enter the project, and there is no restriction as to how many programs or activities in which people can be involved. The project will include programs such as HEAL, Beat It, Healthy Dads Healthy Kids, AustCycle, and activities including Heart Foundation Walking Groups, lifestyle seminars, cooking demonstrations and classes, supermarket tours, plus regular themed events and volunteering opportunities.

What makes the Great Lakes an ideal area to attain optimum peak fitness?

Optimum peak fitness is an admirable goal; however, this will not be a priority in the Great Health Great Lakes project. There is a strong link between physical inactivity and the development of many chronic diseases, so the promotion of increased physical activity as a starting point will be our primary goal. We have data that shows that most adults in the Great Lakes are currently not active enough to improve their health, let alone maintain it.

While I acknowledge there are some people in our community who have managed to embed a vigorous exercise regime into their lifestyle, and there are some fantastic local fitness centres and personal trainers providing excellent services to support this, the fact remains that the vast majority of adults in the Great Lakes find the word ‘exercise’ confronting and intimidating.

Therefore, one of the major goals of our project is to first and foremost help reduce the levels of physical inactivity, and to subsequently help increase the levels of light to moderate physical activity, often through incidental activities associated with daily living.

The Great Lakes is an ideal area in which to do this, as we have so many inexpensive and accessible choices available to us. Realistically though, it can be quite difficult to be physically active when we live in a world surrounded by labour-saving devices or machines that do the work for us. It does require a conscious effort to be less sedentary and more active.

Can people be fit at any age – what are your thoughts on this?

Yes, but we need to first define what we mean by ‘fitness’. Fitness is a general term referring to the ability to carry out a physical task. This can refer to endurance, strength or flexibility, or combinations of these, and are most often related to particular sporting skills or athletic abilities.

In our society, the word fitness has also become associated with how we look – whether we are lean or overweight, but this is a story in itself. In the context of your question, if we describe health-related fitness as either stamina, strength or suppleness, then yes, we can be fit at any age. It is possible to produce improvements in each of these fitness domains by doing various things consistently. For example, by walking regularly we can improve our stamina; by joining a Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi class we can help improve our suppleness; and by doing hard physical work in the garden or some regular resistance activities, we can maintain or improve our strength. Ideally, we should be aiming to work on all three.

How do you feel when you see overweight children and unhealthy eating habits setting in at a young age?

This is a difficult question. The mainstream media has tended to promote being overweight and obesity as the cause of many chronic health problems and has simplistically promoted weight loss as the solution. In other words, if we all lost weight, there’d be no chronic disease epidemics. However, I think the real problem is much more complex than this, and for many of us it comes down to the lifestyle choices we make or are compelled to make.

In the last two generations, we have seen an exponential increase in motor vehicles and other labour saving devices. At the same time, we’ve also witnessed a phenomenal increase in the availability of foods that have been highly processed and are energy-dense. It has gradually become the norm, not the exception, to make food choices that reflect how well the food marketers have done their job and to let those labour saving devices do the work for us.

Sadly, our children are growing up in a world where not many of them walk or ride a bike to school, climb trees, play in the backyard, bushwalk, meet in the local park to play spontaneous games, eat fresh food, only eat when they are hungry and have treats as special occasion foods.

For many families, it is very difficult to buck the societal trend, and by not doing so we unwittingly reinforce the very lifestyle behaviours that we acknowledge aren’t that helpful, but as parents often feel powerless to change.

Hopefully, one of the programs that we’ll be offering in the Great Health Great Lakes project can go some way to address this. Healthy Dads Healthy Kids acknowledges that fathers have a major influence in the physical, social and emotional development of their children. This program aims to help fathers make healthier lifestyle choices and improve the activity and eating behaviours of their children.

Who and what are some of your inspirational sporting heroes or success stories?

I am an avid sports fan and have played a range of sports over the years. In so doing, I have seen some amazing sporting achievements, both live and through the media. These days, elite sports persons are mostly professional and are surrounded by a team of therapists and trainers, so while their achievements are often exceptional, it is almost an expectation that they will succeed.

I tend to find inspiration from ordinary people who succeed by doing extraordinary things. To this end, I derive immense satisfaction from seeing people make realistic and sustainable lifestyle choices that have had a huge impact on their lives

Do you practice what you preach – what do you do to keep fit?

Yes, although my wife would argue that she’s much more active than me! In my early adult years, I used to play a range of sports and trained hard, adopting a very scientific approach to my training. Fortunately, for most of us, age brings wisdom, and I began to realise that this sort of exercise regime was not sustainable.

I’ve given away competitive sports in favour of participative activities and tend to focus more on doing things for the sheer enjoyment of doing them. Possibly my one concession is in backyard cricket with my son Charlie – no holds barred. As a family, we try to leave the car at home as much as possible and walk or ride to our destinations – in other words, to walk the talk!

Thanks Rick. 

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