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The Olympic flame burns in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Monday. (Matt Slocum/AP)
The Olympic flame burns in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Monday. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Jennifer Heil

Legacy of Vancouver Olympics still being defined Add to ...

The Olympic Games will be coming to a conclusion in a few days. From Day 1, I have been inspired by the Canadian Olympic Team's great start. When the Games end, many athletes will instantly shift their focus to a new objective in Rio de Janeiro 2016, keeping in mind the important lessons from London 2012.

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There will be discussions and great pride within Great Britain for having hosted such a successful Games, and their success on the playing field. When the Olympic Games moves on, what will be the legacy left for the nation who embraced the world and footed the bill?

That is a question that we are still looking for answers to in Canada. There is no doubt that the Vancouver Olympics changed something in Canada. It was our attitude and, more importantly, our belief that we can lead the world when we set our minds to it. This attitude has been carried forward in the way we approach sport. Further work needs to be done in streamlining our resources within the system. But fundamentally, Vancouver shifted our sports system for the better.

What if we did it again?

What if we were to collectively continue to build on our 2010 legacy by connecting the dots between health and sport in our country? What if we were to give ourselves the momentous objective to be the healthiest country by 2020?

After all, we have just been watching the Olympics, and one of the strongest messages that comes from watching any Games is that you need to find the courage to overlook your limitations and find solutions to go beyond.

The connection between health and sport is obvious. Inactivity has enormous social, economic and political costs. Inactivity is leading to record levels of obesity and non-communicable diseases. The costs associated with diabetes alone costs the Canadian economy more than $17.4 billion a year. A 30-per-cent reduction in all causes of mortality rates is associated with simply ensuring regular physical activity. Physical activity and sport also enhance mental health, including improved performance in school. As an added bonus, doing sports and being active is just plain fun.

The issue of inactivity is gaining increased attention and focus. However, there are disconnects between the knowledge of how to improve the problem, policy choices, and real action.

Having recently retired from competitive sport, I now understand just how hard it can be to fit everything into a day including my regular dose of physical activity. But what would Canada look like if we made it our collective priority, if we built the programs to support that priority? We need to give our youth the skills they require to be active for life. Physical literacy is as important as teaching kids to read and write.

We can hardly say that it can’t be done because we have proven we are capable of it. Look no further than the Own the Podium program that set the objective to be No. 1 in Vancouver and then systematically redefined and updated the system to pursue this objective.

Quite simply, this is too important not to pursue. The future of our country literally depends on our ability to embrace sport, physical activity and the other key controllable aspect of health - nutrition.

Sport and health need to be a priority from the top down and the bottom up. We need to let the decision makers at all levels know we value this. Join the conversation. The solution lives in our institutions including our school system, our communities and within each of us.

There are many ways to get started. For parents looking for practical solutions to teach their child physical literacy check outwww.activeforlife.ca

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