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Spreading a ‘Healthy Virus’ for Better Health

Dr. Michael Evans is the creator of the worldwide YouTube sensation “23½Hours,” which has been viewed by over four million people, drastically outpacing any other health-based messaging in history. Believing that everyone should take a proactive role in their health, Dr. Evans shares both his approach to healthcare education and his invaluable knowledge, offering suggestions on how to best take care of ourselves to avoid disease. Dr. Mike took his message to the YMCA of Niagara Club this week, and spread the message of living a healthy life:

Forget training for grueling triathlons and dump the paleo diet: Dr. Mike Evans thinks the way to health is through baby steps and simple common sense.

The renowned doctor who’s reaching people all over the world with his YouTube, health-related videos brought his message of how to lead a healthier life to a gathering hosted by the YMCA of Niagara at Club Capri Wednesday evening.

Entitled ‘Shifting Niagara’s health pendulum: physical activity as a prescription for what ails us,’ the YMCA event was all part of efforts to try to get people to start leading healthier lifestyles in the era of runaway rates of obesity and fast food, said YMCA chief executive officer Janet St. Amand.

Evans is a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, CBC radio host and Globe and Mail columnist, but his biggest international impact has been his series of whiteboard visual lectures on YouTube.

They cover everything from cancer prevention and treatment to knee replacements, acne, stress management and flatulence, but his most famous video—entitled ‘23 ½ hours,’ has been seen by millions from India and Somalia to Syria.

In it, he touts an intervention that’s been found to slash rates of dementia, depression, hip fractures and diabetes. That miracle treatment? Moderate exercise—usually just walking—for half an hour a day.

Evans said before his address in Niagara that he’s not trying to trivialize things like cutting down smoking, and controlling cholesterol. “It’s not that all those things aren’t great,” he said.

But Evans said people are besieged by often contradictory messages on health wherever they turn.

“Every time they open a magazine or newspaper it tells them something else,” he said.

That leads to unrealistic expectations on exercise, fad diets like the paleo diet, and focusing too narrowly on things like fat and carbohydrates, said Evans.

Instead of huge lifestyle changes that often aren’t sustainable, Evans promotes incremental steps such as going for a walk or taking the stairs more often, skipping fast food once a week and instead cooking a meal at home, drinking more water, standing up more while at work, cutting down a bit on the ‘couch potato’ time in front of the TV, and consuming less sugary cereal and juice.

“I’m not looking for big steps; I’m looking for small steps,” he said.

Moderate exercise is particularly beneficial, said Evans.

“When you exercise more you sleep better; if you watch less TV you move more and you sleep better,” he said. “If you sleep better you make better food choices the next day.

“We just need a heavy dose of all the nudges in our lives.”

Evans said people need to be conscious of the fact that every day, companies looking to convince them to eat high-calorie breakfast sandwiches or buy unhealthy food while shopping are targeting them.

“Every aisle in the supermarket, every coffee shop is pushing you to make wrong decisions,” he said.

The fact his 23 ½ video has gone viral has Evans thrilled with the fact people are sharing them with each other.

“It’s peer-to-peer health care,” he said. “We call this a healthy virus. We want to make it infectious.”

The YMCA’s St. Amand said Evans’ philosophy is a good fit with her organization’s mission of promoting healthier lifestyles for people of all abilities, ages and lifestyles — something especially important in Niagara because of its older population with more chronic illnesses.

“He’s (Evans) done such a great job communicating complex issues related to health in an entertaining yet impactful way,” she said. “That’s his magic.”

By Paul Forsyth/Niagara This Week/March, 2015