Fit friends

A virtual health challenge helps a group of Montrealers stay in shape

Fit friends

Source: Best Health Magazine, Spring 2008

When psychologist Jennifer Nachshen, 33, set out to get fit last spring—“just in time for shorts season”—she turned to the Internet rather than her local health club. She tapped into her social network and recruited 21 other Montreal-area women to the Health Challenge, a six-week program she designed to boost their fitness. “It is about adding something to your life,” she says—emphasizing well-being over weight loss.

Nachshen’s inbox served as mission control. She asked each woman to set health goals that were clearly defined and reachable, evaluate their progress on a weekly basis, report back to the group, and reward themselves (check out a sample email here). In return, they could count on a swell of support to keep them motivated. Nachshen also issued “mini challenges” each week, such as to consume 10 servings of fruits and vegetables and two litres of water every day (a deceptively difficult task for people on the run).

Sarah Lolley, one of the participants, created goals that included doing yoga or running every day, and taking a vacation for the first time in two years—something she’d been unable to do while working full-time and going to grad school. The 32-year-old knew she was in good hands with Nachshen, who, she says, “knows how to stack the odds in favour of a successful outcome.”

The Health Challenge delivered stellar results. Lolley now exercises four or five times a week, works lots of fruits and vegetables into her diet and is planning another trip.

“It has been such a success. It’s helped me remodel certain health behaviours—and that’s a major victory.”

Katie Foster, 34, a self-described “non-athlete,” became a runner through the Health Challenge. The stay-at-home mom and educator completed a five-kilometre race and found a sport she enjoys.

“Challengers” insist they wouldn’t have met their fitness goals if it hadn’t been for the support they received from the others—through humorous and spirited, compassionate and candid emails—and the fact that the Challenge was virtual, reflecting their connected lifestyles. (Curiosity did eventually get the better of everyone, so Nachshen organized a health food potluck at the end of six weeks; several people also worked out together during the Challenge.)

Six months later, nearly all 21 took Nachshen up on the invitation to join “Health Challenge 2: Rehab,” designed to eliminate a bad health habit and adopt a good one. And they’re gearing up for another round starting this spring, which Nachshen plans to adapt for Facebook. For these health-wise Montrealers, getting fit and feeling fabulous has never been easier.

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