Dr. Chris Blanchard
Understanding exercise behaviour: Dr. Chris Blanchard helps heart patients overcome barriers to physical activity
Health psychologist Dr. Chris Blanchard explores why people don’t exercise, even when they know it will improve their health. “It’s widely known that exercise plays a crucial role in preventing heart disease and many cancers,” says Dr. Blanchard. “But many people don’t realize that regular physical activity prolongs life and improves quality of life for people with chronic disease.”
As a Canada Research Chair in Cardiovascular Disease and Physical Activity at Dalhousie Medical School, Dr. Blanchard’s first goal is to help people living with heart disease become – and stay – more active. He’s working with heart patients, families and health professionals to learn what factors make people more, or less, likely to stick to their prescribed exercise programs. He is also measuring the impact of physical activity on heart patients’ physical and mental health.
“There are many barriers to being physically active, even when we’re relatively healthy,” says Dr. Blanchard. “These barriers go beyond the individual’s knowledge and attitudes. They include lack of time in the face of work and family commitments, lack of resources, lack of facilities in the community, and lack of social support.” He adds that women are less likely than men to be active enough for health benefits; understanding and responding to gender differences in exercise behaviour is one of his key interests.
When a person is recovering from heart or cancer surgery – or otherwise coping with chronic disease – physical and psychological barriers loom large. The key, says Dr. Blanchard, is an appropriate program with realistic goals, professional supervision and/or coaching, and ongoing community support.
Dr. Blanchard is developing an unusual research lab – a gym at the QEII’s Dickson Centre. He plans to open the exercise centre to people with chronic conditions, to use with professional guidance. He hopes to receive funding so that people can use the facilities free of charge. “This would remove the cost barrier, while providing a supportive environment,” he says. “I’ll be able to track peoples’ activity levels, progress, and health and quality-of-life outcomes through the centre.”