Two years ago, Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff had a life-changing moment when he participated in a promotional event for the South Okanagan Healthy Living Fair, having his waistline measured and blood pressure taken.
Dr. Gerry Karr, co-founder of the health fair, said seeing the blood pressure readings taken in the office was a “moment of truth” for Barisoff, inspiring him to take further steps, starting with signing up for the Hearts at Work screening program offered as part of the fair.
“We did it in the office and from that I went down to the health fair and realized that this is a step that you have to take now,” said Barisoff.
While doing blood pressure readings in public under stressful conditions in not ideal to getting a reliable reading, Barisoff’s has dropped considerably since he first participated in the event, thanks to lifestyle changes and medical attention.
“This is not for elite athletes, for people who are already high achievers,” said Karr. “It’s not to expect perfection, it’s to help everybody, no matter what stage of life and what level of health they are at.”
When the Healthy Living Fair got started as a centennial project back in 2008, Karr wasn’t sure how long the event would continue.
“We’re overjoyed to see the ongoing public enthusiasm for this event,” he said. “It just goes to show that the interest in healthy living — not just prevention, but living a healthy lifestyle — is intense and widespread. Lots and lots of people, many of whom enjoy good health, want to know how to preserve that good health and continue living a healthy lifestyle.”
Checking blood pressure or measuring waist circumference is just one of several tests that can be done to help people identify their modifiable risk factors, the focus of the Hearts at Work screening program, which takes 300 pre-registered participants through a series of testing and goal-setting stations.
“You can’t do anything about your family history, but you can do something about cholesterol, about your weight in relation to your height, about your blood pressure,” said Karr.
The goal, he continued, is to help the participants understand what their risk profile is, and then help them through the stations to identify SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-sensitive) goals so they can develop a plan they will keep.
“Too often, we bite off more than we can chew when we try to improve, and we suffer. We run too fast, too far and we’re exhausted. We just don’t want to continue doing that,” said Karr. “Part of this is helping people to slowly, gradually work their way into a healthier lifestyle.”
The screening program is just one part of the two-day fair, which gets underway at 3 p.m. Friday with a three-kilometre walk starting at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre, then a forum with keynote speaker Leslie Beck, a nationally recognized nutrition expert.
“She is probably one of Canada’s top leading experts on nutrition,” said fair organizer Crystal Froese. “She has about a dozen books out on the subject. We’re lucky that she was available to do this for us.”
While there are only 300 slots in the Hearts at Work screening, which takes place on Saturday, the fair also includes a public showcase section featuring more than 70 exhibitors that offer goods and services to help with healthy living.
“There is going to be a big section this year on healthy eating, healthy nutrition,” said Karr.
“It’s going to be a separate portion that is going to offer a whole bunch of practical stuff for people to adapt and develop and improve their habits with regard to nutrition in a way that they can still get enjoyment out of it. If you can’t change your eating habits in a way that you enjoy and get satisfaction out of, it won’t work.”