A Healthy Idea Goes Viral

Thu, Jan 26, 2012

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A Healthy Idea Goes Viral

As a practicing physician, Dr. Mike Evans, BA ’85, has seen firsthand what can happen when people don’t take care of themselves, but he never imagined that creating a simple video on the subject and posting it to You Tube would have such a dramatic impact.

His health advice video, 23 ½ Hours, received over 10,000 hits within days of its being posted to YouTube. Now, two months after posting, it has officially gone viral, with over 1.5 million views.

The video asks a simple question: “What is the single best thing we can do for our health?”

He answers with another — somewhat facetious — question: “Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 ½ hours?”

Through visually appealing whiteboard animations, Evans presents the idea of exercise as medicine. His point is that spending just 30 minutes a day being active has significant health benefits.

As an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, as well as a health columnist for the Globe and Mail, Evans has long been passionate about health promotion and is “always interested in finding ways to improve family care practice.”

Evans maintains that “75 per cent of health care is actually done at home.” Understanding that people are not always able to consult a physician, he believes doctors should find alternative ways of communicating health information.

“A lot of time we’re telling patients what to do, when we really should be telling them why to do it. It’s a very paternalistic model. My drive is to give people science to inform and empower them.”

Evans connects with patients through many media, such as Twitter (@docmikeevans), Facebook (www.facebook.com/docmikeevans) and as a recurring guest on the CBC radio show, Fresh Air.

Most recently, Evans became enamoured with the medium of video. He founded a project called Health Design Lab, which Evans describes as “collaboration between healthcare professionals and creative professionals.” Together, they seek to find new and engaging ways to share information about health with the public. It was with this team that 23 ½ Hours was created.

“In my business, stories trump data, relationships trump stories, and individuals can trump organizations,” he says.

Once Evans began researching his topic, one name in the field stood out.

“As soon as I began looking into exercise as medicine, Stephen [Blair]’s research came up. He’s the star in this discipline, so we made him the star of our series. His research is fascinating.”

As it happens, Dr. Blair was recently awarded McGill’s inaugural Bloomberg Manulife Prize for the promotion of active health. The two had a chance to connect when Blair was in Toronto earlier this month to accept the prize.

“He told me he’s been working on this topic for 40 years, but he has had more fame now than ever due to the success of the video.”

Evans too has garnered a lot of response. Within days of the video going viral, he found his inbox filling up with over a thousand emails per day. He was delighted to see than many of them were from people who were enthusiastically outlining their exercise routines.

“There are a lot of zealous people out there.”

What’s next for Evans and his colleagues at the Health Design Lab? They’re collaborating again, creating a series of 10-12 more videos in the same style of 23 ½ Hours.

“Clearly this was a home run hit. So we worked backwards and asked ourselves why this was so successful. A big part of its success, I believe, can be attributed to the sharing aspect. Many people who received it did so from someone they loved. It spread like a healthy virus, but instead of a cold, it’s an engaging message that is actionable and doable.”

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