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(BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)
(BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters)

Canadians' leisure time shrinking Add to ...

The number of Canadians who squeeze in at least one meal a day with their teenage kids is on the decline. Visits to parks occur less often. And the window of time for attending plays and concerts is shrinking.

Caught between caring for children and elderly parents, stressed by jobs that require weekend and evening work, the average person is more likely to turn to the television or the computer for entertainment than to take a walk in the woods or play pick-up hockey.

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In short, the hours that Canadians spend refreshing their minds and their bodies through leisure and cultural activities - and moments shared with family - are being condensed and it's affecting their well-being.

Those are the findings of a report to be released Tuesday by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing called Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada.

It's a crunch that the Grunlings of Edmonton, like many Canadian families, know well.

Sit-down family dinners are rare in the Grunling home. Myles, 16, and Colin, 14, play soccer on teams coached by their father. Crystal Grunling and her husband, Manfred, work full-time jobs, and the boys, in Grades 11 and 8, attend different schools.

"We're running every night of the week," said Ms. Grunling, 44, a program director with the Edmonton Minor Soccer Association. "We have practices for one or the other, games for one or the other. It just never stops."

The family does carve out some dinner time - on Saturday afternoons, the only day they often all have off. Otherwise they make do with leftovers, quick meals and takeout, and "dine and dash" many large family gatherings. Hanging in their kitchen, next to the fridge, is a calendar with little blank space to be seen.

"I said if the house burns down, bring the calendar," Ms. Grunling said with a laugh, as her sons diligently devoured leftovers Monday evening before soccer practice at a nearby school.

"You have to make it work. Is it the best situation? No. But you have to," she said.

Even if most families find ways to deal with the pressures, the report paints a bleak picture of the balance that Canadians try to strike between their working lives and their moments of relaxation.

It's not that they are working longer hours. In fact, the report says the number of people spending more than 50 hours a week on the job declined between 1996 and 2009, a drop that began before the economic downturn.

But Canada has become a society operating 24 hours a day and, as a result, more people are working odd hours - weekends, nights, rotating shifts. That has cut into the time they would normally spend with their spouses and their children and doing the things they really like to do. And that can lead to burnout.

"If we are on this treadmill, we will end up being less productive, less contributing to society, less knowledgeable," said Roy Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier who is the chair of the Index of Wellbeing's advisory board. "And therefore, not only is our well-being being affected, but so might our productivity be affected."

One in five Canadian adults reports being caught in a time crunch, with slightly more women than men saying they feel like they are perpetually under the gun.

At the same time, the report says the average proportion of our waking lives devoted to social and leisure activities dropped by 20 per cent between 1998 and 2005.

But it also offers a number of recommendations. Among other things, it suggests a need for more family-friendly work policies such as flex hours and more vacation time, better supports for people caring for children and parents, more walkable neighbourhoods, and increased engagement of volunteers.

It's the good fortune of flexible work hours that allow Edmonton residents Mike and Krista Long to regularly have a sit-down meal with their children, ages 14 and 11.

Mr. Long, an employee with a local power company, often starts dinner preparation in the morning. Ms. Long, a teacher, and the children finish it in the late afternoon. Even while juggling work and regular football practices, the family sits down for dinner nearly every evening - though it often requires early mornings and late evenings, working from home.

"It's crazy. Football season is horrible," said Ms. Long, 42, who nevertheless believes in the value of regular family dinners. "Even if it's hot dogs, I think it's important we all check in."

Volunteerism can help people stay socially connected and contribute to their emotional and sometimes physical well-being, the report says.

Mr. Romanow would also like to see a federal conference on the issue. Families and individuals, he said, need to be told: "Look, this is just not good for your own health, for your family's health, or our economic well-being to see us continually running on a treadmill and having a time crunch. It catches up with you."



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