The brand new hockey program encourages followers to play sports activities and lead more healthy life

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A new program designed to encourage ice hockey fans to get in shape and lead a healthier lifestyle has now been rolled out to cities across Canada.

Hockey FIT or fans in training started as a pilot in London, Ont. and Sarnia. It is now in 32 parishes across the country – from Chilliwack, BC, to Kingston, Ont.

The unique 12-week program and research study is aimed at middle-aged men at risk of disease and encourages them to lead healthier lifestyles through fan culture and incorporating their passion for the sport.

“Unfortunately, about 70 percent of men between the ages of 35 and 55 are overweight, which puts them at risk for a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Brendan Riggin, a researcher at the Center for Family Medicine Studies at Western University.

“So our idea here is that by partnering with Canadian hockey league teams we can try to get these guys into a healthy lifestyle program and hopefully reduce that risk and give them behind-the-scenes access to get to their favorite teams, “Riggin told CBC Afternoon Drive.

Hockey FIT partnered with the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and worked with teams like the London Knights, Kitchener Rangers and Sarnia Sting to bring the sport into the program.

Afternoon drive5:56The new hockey program is designed to get fans in better shape

Brendan Riggin, a researcher at the Center for Studies in Family Medicine in Western, speaks with Chris dela Torre, host of the CBC Afternoon Drive, about a new program to get ice hockey fans in better shape. 5:56

Trainer Brandon Downing, an exercise therapist for the Owen Sound Attack, brought inside hockey knowledge to Hockey FIT when he began training with the program.

“It was really cool to see familiar faces, these season ticket holders, sitting in the same places in the stands and signing up as part of Hockey FIT,” said Downing. “And when the session ended, they were still meeting to train together. So it was clear that it was working and that they had really bought in.”

Pete Miller, an Attack season ticket holder for more than two decades, said the program was not only rewarding, but exceeded his expectations and enabled him to meet others with similar interests. Miller joined the program in his early days and wanted to improve his health before retiring.

He said the payoff was getting fit and living a healthy lifestyle – which he still practices to this day.

“I realized that I had spent too much time sitting around. I was starting to feel very sluggish and thinking it was a good time in my life to get fit,” Miller said.

“Everyone on the program was also a hockey fan, so we had that bond and that was the motivation for coming to the program right there.”

Brendan Riggin said more than 1,300 men across Canada participated in Hockey FIT, with 2,000 more interested. (Submitted by Brendan Riggin)

The men’s health initiative was founded by Dr. Robert Petrella, Professor Emeritus at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Professor at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine.

“Even shutdowns due to pandemics have not dampened the enthusiasm for hockey or the motivation to get healthy,” said Petrella. “Getting men into fitness and health programs can be difficult at times, so we use hockey, their love for their team, and the camaraderie that comes with it, as a means of motivating them to join in and stick with it.”

Petrella said the program attracted more than 2,000 men across the country.

“These communities are feeling the absence of the hockey season so fans are very excited to have something to participate in,” said Petrella.

“Ultimately, we don’t just want to conduct a research study, we also want to develop a sustainable program that will continue over the longer term.”