The power of motivation: Promoting physical activity among teenagers

10 February 2010

There’s no question Olympic athletes are highly motivated, training years in advance for the games. But results from the recently completed Vancouver 2010: Olympic Year Impact on Physical Activity study reveal that the iconic event is also a significant source of physical motivation for the average Canadian. 

"We wanted to look at whether the Olympics were having a positive impact on Canadian leisure-time activity levels, and if so, what was motivating people," said Dr. Montoya, an assistant professor of psychology at Thompson Rivers University, and lead author of the study. Through the MSFHR-funded BC Environmental and Occupational Health Research Network, Dr. Montoya and colleagues collected and analyzed data from numerous sources dating from 1994 to 2007.

They found that not only do Canadians become more physically active more frequently in the years when Olympic Games are being held, but also that they are particularly active during the years of the Winter Olympics. This increase in leisure time physical activity is not a recent phenomenon – as  one might expect given the increased emphasis on 'getting active' – but is rather part of a 30-year positive trend in which Canadians have generally become more physically active.

Another interesting finding is that Western Canadians are significantly more active than Eastern Canadians.

"There was a significant west to east effect," says Dr. Montoya. "In further analysis we've found that provinces with the greatest amount of land set aside for parks and recreation, which are BC and Alberta, also have the greatest levels of leisure time physical activity. The 'west to east' effect was also evident in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, says Dr. Montoya.

Dr. Montoya has been personally affected by the Olympics. He decided to become more physically active together with his wife and family in the run-up to the Olympics. "Personally, I've lost 91 pounds in 16 months and my wife lost 78 in the same period of time. Similarly, my son has lost over 100 pounds in about two years, and my daughter has lost 78 pounds. "

"The Olympics are a very powerful motivator in a number of ways," continues Dr. Montoya. "When the Olympic torch came through Williams Lake, we had over 6,000 people turn out for the event. To put that in context, there are approximately 10,000 people in the city and 25,000 people in the catchment area. So about one-third of the voting population came out to see the torch."