Physical activity leads to much more than improved health

For 25 years, InMotion Network has worked to keep women and girls physically active and healthy in order to build community and foster physical activity, sports awareness, and leadership skills.

“It is well known that girls that are involved in sports from a very early age learn self-coping skills, self-effacing skills. They can put their position forward. They build self-confidence. All of those wonderful things,” says Ella Mayer, executive director with InMotion Network. “They learn time management and prioritization. More importantly, they learn to value themselves.” Mayer adds that a woman who values herself and knows her worth will be less likely to remain in an abusive relationship.

“The immediate benefit is improving health determinants. Getting them active. Getting them out socializing. [It’s] especially important for women that come to Canada from somewhere else. It’s just good for women to be able to build that bond with other women, because women tend to gather for strength.”

They’re also an inclusive organization. “We accept a gender diverse population as long as they are significantly female identified. That value has been part of our guiding values for five years, six years.”

She explains how the non-profit organization became inclusive.

InMotion Network’s goal is to keep girls and women active. | Pixabay

“We were funding a project with a group that was working with women leaving the street life,” says Mayer. The Alberta government was providing funding for upgrading so participants could receive their GED. But the women were struggling because it was a solely intellectual project, so Mayer asked the executive director if there was a physical component. “She said, ‘No, not really. We don’t have the money to do it.’” InMotion Network donated $2,500 for that purpose and their success rate increased by 30 per cent. “It allowed [participants] to develop friendships, trust relationships—which is something that anyone that has worked the street doesn’t really have the ability to [do]—to get physical, to laugh, and then spark the emotional side of well-being.”

At the end of the year, the group sent InMotion a class picture of the women and two trans women. “I said, ‘If they were working the street as women, and the rest of the class accepts them as women, then they are women.’ And I brought that to my next board meeting.”

Outdoor fitness is also important. A few years ago, InMotion put on a program called Play Like a Canadian.

“It was designed for new Canadian women and girls that had been here for less than two years, and refugee women and girls. Research shows that individuals that come from tropical climates tend to stay indoors in the winter. There is a two year window that if an individual is introduced to winter activities, sports, and games outside they are far more likely to [stay] involved in those winter activities.”  

Women are still the primary caregivers and role models for children under the age of seven. “So, if kids see mum wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa from October until April, what message are the kids getting?”

The program offered six hours of instruction in each winter sport. “We did cross-country skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing, and winter orienteering. It was fantastic.” Participants laughed and helped one another. “Somebody would be on snowshoes and they would fall over, and all the other women would laugh and help the other one up. Then [they’d] give tips on how they did it.” The purpose was to show participants that winter is not that bad, if properly dressed.

InMotion Network has programs all over the province, including five schools in the Alberta Avenue region. Their Go Girl programs introduce girls to the Commonwealth Fitness Centre. “Most of those girls have never been in [the Commonwealth Fitness Centre]. But to me, the most important thing is moms who have never volunteered before are going along as volunteers with Go Girl and they are building that network,” says Mayer. “Now, it’s to the point that Via Rail has recognized the value of it and they give 50 of their staff the day off to go volunteer.”

Fitness, community building, inclusiveness. It’s a win-win situation. After all, who knows where that community and an introduction to fitness could lead?

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Featured Image: Being physically active helps people bond with one another. | Pixabay