Health is our greatest wealth, but that doesn’t always seem the case for men. In fact, they tend to be less knowledgeable about health risk factors, are less likely to access and use information to maintain and improve their health, but something men do care about is sports!

We saw this as an opportunity and developed Hockey Fans In Training (Hockey FIT) which draws overweight and obese men (a traditionally difficult demographic to target) into a healthy lifestyle and exercise program to help them lose weight and increase levels of physical activity. A healthy lifestyle was the draw, but the hook was their passion for their favourite Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team. This concept is not a new one within the wider sporting context. Football Fans In Training (Football FIT) started in Scotland, UK and is now successfully operating within 42 soccer clubs in Scotland and has been the foundation of Euro FIT which now operates in 15 soccer clubs in 4 European countries. These programs have helped hundreds of men adopt healthy lifestyles while engaging them even more deeply with their favourite football or soccer team. We wanted to do the same here in Canada with our national sport, hockey!

Hockey FIT is grounded in evidence-based research and provides a preferred sport-fan venue to engage at-risk Canadian men. Hockey FIT is based on FFIT, but adapted to hockey within the Canadian context, and, to strengthen sustainability, integrated with components of our lifestyle prescription program (HealtheSteps™). The HealtheSteps™ program is grounded in scientific evidence and members of our pan-Canadian HealtheSteps™ Network have demonstrated that the program can be applied to numerous community-based settings in urban and rural areas.

Our program, drew like-minded men together through the love of OHL hockey (specifically the London Knights and Sarnia Sting) to improve their lifestyle. Sessions were held once a week, for 90 minutes, over a period of 12 weeks and consisted of education focusing on diet and physical activity among other topics as well as group exercise. The 12 sessions took place at team arenas and training facilities, with guest appearances from players and management – giving them an all access pass adding to the feeling of being part of the team! The program is pragmatic—it uses existing resources and it is simple—it promotes uncomplicated and realistic lifestyle changes that are easy to achieve in the comfort and security of groups of men who share a desire to get healthy, and have a passion for their OHL hockey team.

Recruitment for the program was simple. Emails to season ticket holders and fans that were subscribed to London Knights or Sarnia Sting (two teams e-newsletters proved to be effective in recruiting over half of the men that participated). The study was capped at 80 men participating, however within less than 2 weeks of starting recruitment over 150 men expressed an interest in being a part of the program!

Our results have shown men can achieve on average 8 pound weight loss in 12 weeks; and maintain this change and a host of other health benefits for 12 months. In-between completing the 12 weeks of sessions and attending an assessment to measure changes at 12 months, the men were kept motivated through the use of Hockey Fans In Training Social network (similar to FaceBook) branded to their team (Knights or Sting) where the men and their coaches shared successes, challenges and cheered on each other and their OHL team.

After the success with two OHL teams, our priority is to grow Hockey FIT to a national program and expand throughout the CHL. We are in the process of working with different funding opportunities and sponsors to further the Hockey FIT program and solidify it is an innovative way to improve health in communities through the power of sport and the love of their local CHL team.

Stay tuned for more Hockey FIT blog posts and podcasts, we post new stuff every other Tuesday! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to stay up to date on what we’re up to!

Hockey FIT Team

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