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The Ex shapes up

Work off those mini-donuts with a Zumba class; learn about healthy lifestyles at the Go4Health Expo

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Craving mini-donuts, corn dogs and cheesecake on a stick?

You can get it all at the Red River Ex, along with a side dish of Zumba classes, smoking cessation help and a tutorial on hand washing -- complete with a look at the germs crawling on your hands.

The healthy offerings are all part of the event's Go4health Expo featuring a series of wellness-related exhibits, co-ordinated with the help of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Red River Ex CEO Garth Rogerson -- whose health-themed showcases have grown from just one exhibit just three years ago to 90 today -- says it's clear the public is interested in health (and free stuff). He says last year, attendees lined up for more than an hour in advance to get free bicycle helmets.

"It's been fantastic," says Rogerson, who has arranged for volunteers to hand out free bike helmets and pedometers this year, too.

"There are so many interesting things happening in the health field, with the trails and all the different things going on. So I thought, 'Why don't we engage it?'"

He says last year's giant interactive colon -- a favourite with the public -- has now been replaced by Germ City, a hand-washing exhibit that allows visitors to check the bacteria present on their hands before and after washing them. (A special liquid solution sprayed on the skin allows the germs to be visible when the participant walks through a tunnel equipped with a black light).

"You wash your hands and you come back in and you can see how much you didn't get off. It's pretty gross, but it's an eye-opener," says Rogerson, noting that similar attractions helped boost the Red River Ex's attendance to 230,000 last year, up 26 per cent from the year before.

"It's one of those things that's just kind of cool. We've really worked hard to ... bring those things that people want to see, and that's why attendance is going up."


Other health-related attractions include a smoking cessation area where pharmacists will distribute nicotine gum; an interactive nutrition booth where registered dietitians will challenge visitors to play a healthy grocery game; the WRHA's Healthy Sexuality and Harm Reduction team, which will educate the public about sexual transmitted infections; live Zumba and yoga demonstrations onstage; and a mental health area that includes an interactive Flourishing Families Tree.

The fair has been located at its current Red River Exhibition Park at since 1997. The Red River Exhibition Association, a non-profit agricultural society, runs the Ex.

The Ex's Go4health Expo is located at the grounds' Exhibition Place.

Dr. Sande Harlos, a WRHA medical officer of health who helped to organize the expo, says she's thrilled with the public response she observed when volunteering there last year.

"It's really exciting having that opportunity to engage with people, especially when they are there just having fun and in the mindset to learn something new or try new things," says Harlos, adding that some visitors who got a free pedometer, a step-tracking device, would walk around the fairgrounds and then come back and report to health-expo volunteers how many steps they had taken.

Think the Ex's health offerings might be more fun than substance?

The WRHA's Go4health Expo planning lead, Alexandra Henteleff, says that's not the case.

She says an online survey of approximately 200 health-expo visitors last year produced some positive feedback.

"I'm eating better. You made it fun. I've made my house smoke free," says Henteleff, reciting some of the comments left by visitors.


The Red River Ex runs to June 24. Admission to the Go4health Expo is free with gate admission. Health expo hours are Monday to Wednesday from 3 to 11 p.m. and Thursday to Sunday from noon to 11 p.m. Gate admission purchased in advance at Sobeys is $8. Gate admission purchased at the Park is $12.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2012 D1

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