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In Conversation with Crystal Watson, Executive Director of Recreation Nova Scotia

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I’m the Executive Director of Recreation Nova Scotia and I’ve occupied this position for almost two years now; I’m about to enter my third year as Executive Director which is very exciting. My background is in recreation therapy. I’ve worked in clinical environments as a recreation therapist and as a professor in therapeutic recreation programs in universities and colleges. Recreation has been an important part of my life for over 25 years. I’m currently completing my doctorate at Dalhousie and my interest lies in the play experiences of African Nova Scotian children, particularly girls. I look forward to exploring this topic for the next couple of years. 

What is Recreation Nova Scotia’s mission as an organization?

We’re a not-for-profit organization focused on helping practitioners, many of whom work in municipalities, volunteer groups, are students, or are connected to our organization through corporate memberships, and partners support and address the recreational needs of all Nova Scotians. We provide educational opportunities for folks in the sector which also helps strengthen the connections among those that work in recreation. We’re working to be a strong provincial voice in ensuring that Nova Scotians have access to recreational opportunities.

Do you think that there are enough recreational facilities and programs in the province?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I think we have enough recreational facilities and programs in the province, but we lack professionals in the recreation field to meet the needs of Nova Scotians. I say that because the recreation needs of Nova Scotians are all individualized, so we need to provide a number of opportunities and ensure that as many people as possible are able to access those particular opportunities. We need more staff and resources in order to be able to address the barriers many individuals face in accessing recreational facilities and programs. For example, some of our facilities may not be physically accessible and we need to think creatively about what we can do to address those barriers. Different individuals will require different approaches to making recreational facilities and programs accessible.

Do you think that Nova Scotians have equal access to recreational facilities and programs?

I think that we’re at a point where recreational practitioners understand that there are individuals who aren’t able to easily access recreational facilities and programs. Over the last number of months, Recreation Nova Scotia has been engaging with sector partners and stakeholders to talk about inclusion and access. We need to first understand what’s currently happening because there are communities across the province who are working really hard to identify what those barriers to recreation are and how to address them. But there are also communties that aren’t sure where to start or what those barriers are. Based on the engagement sessions that we’ve had across the province, Recreation Nova Scotia is planning to work with recreation professionals and partners to identify what those gaps are and how we can support communities, municipalities, recreational staff and some of those volunteer groups that provide recreational opportunities beyond our municipal recreational centers. It really comes down to a system change and we know that it would be unreasonable of us to think this can happen overnight. 

Would you say that there is sufficient funding for organizations such as Recreation Nova Scotia that are trying to provide access to recreation facilities and programs across the province?

I think that the provincial government provides really great grants to a lot of our recreational organizations and communities so that they can provide recreational opportunities. Just based on my own conversations, I would have to say that they are trying to do things differently. Sometimes funding goes towards certain types of recreational activities, putting other people at a disadvantage. I think there needs to be a way for us to speak about how we can make funding more equitable and diverse and how we can change conversations around what we should invest in for our communities because sometimes what we invest in isn’t what communities need. We have to be very mindful of individual needs, cultural needs, and specific needs of our communities so that we can ensure that folks have access to the right resources at the right time. 

How would you describe the state of physical health in Nova Scotia? 

I think that Nova Scotians are not as active as they could be and I think it’s a result of many things. There’s the issue of infrastructure but more importantly, high poverty rates. When we don’t pay attention to the cost of recreational activities, and when we’re not being intentional about providing free to low cost recreational activities, we prevent a lot of people from being physically active. The other thing is that we expect people to know what to do but we don’t always provide the resources, whether that’s human resources through coaching to support people in learning about what they can do to improve their physical health. There’s a leisure educated based program created by a couple of professors at Dalhousie (with support from folks within the recreational community) called Steps to Connect that informs people about the activities happening in their community that they can participate in to improve their health. I don’t think we provide enough resources for leisure education as a way to help people to identify what their values and interests are to engage in recreation and exploring with them how participating in certain activities could help them in the long run. The assumption is that if you tell people they are in poor physical health that they will automatically know what to do and that they have the support to do that. But if you don’t have the money, a leisure partner, or access to transportation, then you won’t be able to be physically active. Furthermore, people faced with poverty are more concerned about getting food on their plate than being physically active. As another colleague of mine at Dalhousie puts it, you need fuel to be active. The issue of physical activity is multifaceted. You really can’t explore the topic without thinking about a number of things. 

Do you have any advice for Nova Scotians about how they can begin to live more actively?

The easiest thing to do is to figure out what’s available in your community. But I say that as someone whose able-bodied and getting outside isn’t easy for everybody. I think taking walks around your neighbourhood is a great way to start. I would also recommend thinking of people in your immediate circle that you would want to be active with. I find that it can be a lot of pressure to do things on your own so having someone that can hold you accountable helps. Also don’t feel like you have to run a marathon right away—start slow! Incremental change has a huge impact. We know of a lot of people who may just go for a 5 minute walk around their home—even that has benefits. If we want people to get to 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day then we need to support them in starting slow and to not feel the need to push themselves beyond their limits because we know that that’s not healthy.

Is exercising outdoors more beneficial than exercising indoors?

Personally, I think it’s about preference. Exercising outdoors is definitely not as expensive as exercising indoors and a lot of the exercises that people do at the gym can be done outside. Research shows that exercising outdoors can greatly benefit your mental health. But again, it comes down to preference. Some people enjoy the gym and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others might prefer a bike ride or swimming.

In what ways do social media platforms influence the kinds of relationships we have with our bodies?

Research shows different things. From my perspective, I’ve seen it be both harmful and helpful for people, so I think it depends on where those individuals are mentally. My belief is that at some point in your life you’re at risk of something, so depending on where you are on that risk continuum, you could be benefiting from what might be presented on social media or being harmed. It really depends on the individual and their ability to filter through the information that they’re being exposed to. 

What do you think it means to have a healthy relationship with your body? 

Speaking personally, I think it means you are intentionally doing things that make you feel good. I really feel that in order for me to be my best self, I have to do things for my body that make me happy, whether that’s going for a walk or simply spending time getting to know myself. I think that we aren’t encouraged to appreciate the time we have alone and that we always feel like we have to socialize with other people. Socializing is great but it can also be overwhelming. We have a tendency to care for others more than we care for ourselves. If you want to have a positive relationship with your body, you need to have a positive psychological relationship with yourself. This means stepping back and evaluating what you’re doing with yourself when you’re by yourself. 

In what ways can living actively improve one’s quality of life?

There are so many benefits to being physically active. Depending on what you’re doing you can be focusing on yourself and of course that’s going to make you a better person. When you feel good about yourself, you're more likely to contribute to your community, and we know how important community is to our quality of life.