“Whatever excuse people have for not being
active, we’ve heard it,” says Johnson. “But then what
you have to consider is that your health is the most
important thing you’ve got, and you need to put
everything else second. If you don’t, you’re taking
years off your life, and quality years too.”
Brains and brawn
The show’s concept was born after Johnson and
McLeod met at a Toronto gym in 1988. Johnson had
performed in many TV commercials, having taken
acting classes in university. “So I went over with
some excuse to talk to her, and I said I could give her
some tips about getting into TV broadcasting. Sure
it was a line, but it worked,” he jokes.
As a young man, Johnson played baseball for the
University of Colorado and represented Canada in the
world championships in Japan. After finishing his business degree, he was about to embark on a sportscasting
career, “but I wanted to do something with value,
something positive that could help others,” he says.
McLeod, a four-time national and seven-time
provincial hurdles champion, who represented
Canada at several international competitions, says
that she had a real passion to be active, and wanted
to be a gym teacher, “but I meandered and ended up
working in the health insurance industry.”
On June 8, 1988, they each pitched in $2,000
to produce a pilot, and soon after became voluntarily unemployed.
“We quit our jobs and went out on a limb, but
that’s what it takes,” says Johnson. “You can’t do it
part-time, I told Joanne.” He used his sales background to pitch the show
around, and found out through
rejection that they had a unique
but unorthodox product.
“The fact that we were a
black and white couple was a
challenge to sell,” he recalls.
Their big break came along
when Particip-ACTION (a gov-ernment-funded national fit-ness-awareness campaign)
bought their idea and accepted
who they were, and introduced
the health-minded duo to a
national television audience on
April 15, 1989.
To date, Hal and Joanne
have produced 275 90-second
programs and about 40 30-
minute TV programs; Body
Break, the short vignettes, airs on 78 television stations and is seen in 400 doctors’ offices across
Canada. The pair has also published a best-seller,
Our Guide to Healthy Living, which includes 75
recipes; they’ve designed activewear and have a line
of fitness equipment; they have recorded several
workout DVDs; and their Web site ( www.body
break.com) features archived show episodes and
offers fitness tips and recipes.
When asked if they predicted the success and
longevity of Body Break, they both give a resounding
“No!” “We always felt like we were on a bridge that
kept falling behind us,” says McLeod. “After the first
five years, we wondered if we could make it to 10.
And now that we’re at 20 years, we wonder how
much further we can take it.”
So what has made the show a success? According
to Johnson, “It was the simplicity of the idea, and
“In a way, our message hasn’t just been about
staying healthy and fit,” says McLeod. “Our message
was really that, regardless of age, gender or race, we
can all work, live and play together.”
“I wouldn’t say that we were ahead of our time,
but we were breaking some moulds and myths by
integrating different people in our segments whenever possible, and that was really the subtext of
Body Break,” says Johnson. He compares the
approach to seasoning a soup: The more ingredients you add, the tastier and more interesting it
becomes. And their unique flavour has won fans all
over the country over the past two decades.
Keeping fit and having fun
The message they deliver to many Canadians
each day is one that’s echoed in their own household.
“We see what we’re doing as setting an example for
our daughter, Sierra, 8,” says Johnson. In fact, a number of their recent segments have focused on getting
kids active, which they see as doing their part to help
combat a national obesity epidemic (see sidebar). “We
face the same problems as other parents. We try to
look for things we can do to encourage active living,
and make it fun.”
“As a parent, you’re a role model, and for our
daughter it’s just normal that parents work out for
an hour each day,” McLeod says. They really do
live the Body Break motto: “Keep
fit and have fun.”
“That really sums it up perfectly for us,” says Johnson.
McLeod goes for long runs
four times a week, and she runs
half-marathons. Johnson plays
ice hockey a few days a week,
enjoys in-line skating and spends
time at the gym. Both enjoy golfing as long as the weather holds
out. “We put in 100 rounds of
golf in six months and we carry
our clubs—we prefer to walk
and try to avoid taking a cart
whenever possible,” says Johnson.
Their example seems to be working: Sierra plays hockey in a
house league, and takes tae kwon
do and swimming lessons. They
also do lots together as a family.
Oh sure, you think, but they make everything
look so easy: They’re fit, they can cook and they
look happy too. “People think that we’re health
nuts, so it’s easy for us to stay fit, but it’s not,” says
Johnson “Every day, you have to make a decision;
every day is a challenge. You ask yourself, am I
gonna do this?”
And every day for the past 20 years, their answer
has consistently been “Yes!” C
Members: Hal Johnson and
Joanne McLeod, hosts and
producers of Body Break
Members since: 1995 at
Web site: www.bodybreak.com
Thoughts about Costco:
“Mostly, we shop at Costco
for food items about twice a
month,” says Johnson, “and
we shop there because of
the excellent value you get on
Angela Pirisi, a Hamilton, Ontario–based freelance
writer, covers health, fitness and nutrition.
CHILDHOOD WEIGHT is a
predictor of overweight and
obesity in adulthood, and can
lead to serious diseases, such
as diabetes and heart disease.
Johnson and McLeod have
recently been promoting
active living for kids in their
segments, believing that the
sooner in life you start living
healthy, the better.
Here are some tips they offer
parents to keep kids fit.
• Make breakfast a habit. It
should be a routine event, like
brushing teeth, and nutritious.
That means choosing high-fibre
foods, such as whole-grain toast
or cereal, fruit and milk (instead
of sugar-loaded juice).
• Load your child’s lunch box
with energy. Include lean cuts
of meat, such as turkey, and
whole-grain breads and fruit.
“You need to give your child
energy to get through the afternoon, and what they eat affects
their academic performance
too,” says McLeod.
• Cut back on how much sugar
you give your child. Treats
should be special, not a daily
event, says Johnson.
• Shop for healthful foods.
Make healthy food choices for
your family at the supermarket.
If unhealthy food isn’t in the
house, kids can’t eat it.
• Just say no. Set limits, such as
turning off the computer and TV,
no matter how much kids fuss.
• Show your child the way. Get
out and be active with your
kids. Kids like to mimic parents,
so set an example by doing stuff
• Use games or play to keep
children motivated. Making
fitness look like child’s play lets
kids have fun and, without
even knowing it, they will also
build cardiovascular health,
muscle strength, coordination