Road To Health

A conversation with BodyBreak's Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

September 1, 2014
by Travel Management Canada Staff


From the August, 2014 print issue of Travel Management Canada

It’s been 26 years since Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod began telling Canadians about the importance of nutrition, fitness and a healthy lifestyle. For Travel Management Canada publisher Dorothy Jakovina, the opportunity to sit down and chat with the fitness duo was also an opportunity to reconnect. Dorothy worked at ParticipACTION in a media communications role when Hal & Joanne approached the national organization about partnering to produce BodyBreak public service ads. That kicked off the relationship between ParticipACTION and BodyBreak, with Dorothy visiting media across Canada to promote the ads. After 68 spots Hal & Joanne produced their own ads and have greatly expanded the BodyBreak brand. Their upbeat and informative message has had a impact on Canadians and their well-being over the years. 

Dorothy Jakovina: Thank you for speaking with us. When you think about one of the most recognizable couples in Canada, you two certainly are it. I think it’s a testimony to the incredible work that you’ve done over the last 26 years.

Hal Johnson: We’ve been lucky, that would be the biggest thing. We’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity and we hit it at a specific time that was very fortunate for us. A lot of things fell into place. Trying to replicate BodyBreak now, on the one hand, would be very difficult to do. But on the other hand, there’s more opportunity to get your voice heard. All we wanted to do is have our little voice and try to motivate Canadians to eat properly and be active. Today, people have more venues through social media—it’s a lot easier, but there’s a lot more noise out there.

Joanne McLeod: It wasn’t until social media that we were getting the feedback that we’ve been getting and realizing that kids have grown up with us and are now having kids and saw us during The Amazing Race. We’ve now touched so many generations—it’s so rewarding to know that you’ve had an impact on seniors to the little tikes.

Do you have a story about how you’ve touched someone’s life and made a difference?

JM: The biggest thing is the response we get when we’re out in public. We bring people back to when they were growing up. Or we bring them back to a time when they were sitting on the couch watching the show and realized they felt guilty they were eating something they shouldn’t or that they should get out and exercise. We bring them back to a time when, say, they were a student and had no responsibilities. It’s like going into your mom’s house and there are cookies baking and the smell reminds you of home. We constantly get those comments and that’s what touches you.

HJ: It’s still hard to believe when somebody says ‘I grew up with you guys. You guys came in the Saturday morning cartoons.’ Then they start reciting the exercises or tips we gave them. It’s hard for us to fathom that. And then you think, I guess we’re like The Friendly Giant or Mr. Dress Up to them. It’s really hard for me to get a real handle on that we affected people. We did our job and we enjoyed it and we hope we helped people. But it’s hard to imagine we did in any significant way.

You speak about touching the lives of people who have grown up with BodyBreak, but you also mentioned that a lot of them are parents now. Is it having an influence on their kids lives as well?

HJ: I hope so, if we’ve had a small impact on them—it’s paying it forward. The unfortunate thing is that more people are obese today than ever. We try to get the message out to eat properly and get out and move.

JM: We’ve always felt that it’s important in Canada to have role models. We have hockey players and basketball players, but the most important role model, especially if you’re a parent, is yourself. What you do on a daily basis is what’s going to have the biggest impact on your children.HalJoanneRiding

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing business travellers in terms of health? Is it healthy eating, maintaining an exercising program or lack of sleep?

HJ: All of the above. I think the biggest thing is that if you have a healthy routine you get out of that healthy routine and it’s unfortunate. You have to adapt a travel routine for eating and for exercise. And you have to plan—that’s the biggest thing when you travel.

JM: There will be pitfalls along the way. You’ll be travelling and you’ll want to grab something to eat and you’ve got to make those healthy choices. You always have to be aware of what you’re doing and not just say, ‘oh, I’ll just grab this. It’s high fat but it doesn’t matter.’ Well, it will matter to how much you sleep and how much energy you have.

What challenges do you face on the road?

HJ: For myself, the biggest thing is sleep and adjusting to time. Food isn’t really the issue; I’ve got a pretty good handle on what I should eat. It’s trying to get proper sleep. You’re in a different bed, you’re in a different time zone and you’re waking up at different hours. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep the night before and I’m travelling the next day, it’s much harder. The flight seems that much longer and it really seems to drag. But if you get a really good night’s sleep and you’re prepared before you leave, it makes travel a lot easier. 

JM: Also, schedule your flights to be more accommodating for your sleep or your routine. The later in the day, the more difficult it is to unwind. I definitely have difficulty sleeping in hotels, so I’ve started to take earplugs. It takes out the very high pitches. You’re still able to hear you’re alarm—but the elevator doors closing and opening, the people that are walking through the hallway—you just don’t hear the noises the same and you’re more apt to stay asleep. From an exercise perspective, you’re off your schedule and trying to fit it in. You have to force yourself to realize that going for a 30-minute walk or going down to the fitness room will make you feel better—I’ll feel better if I do something active.

HJ: I have a bunch of flights that I have to schedule and I said to Joanne, ‘when do you want to leave?’ We’re going to Calgary and we have an event we have to do the next morning. We don’t want to fly too late, even though we can get into Calgary at 10 or 11 o’clock. By the time we sleep it will be one o’clock Toronto time. It’s better to travel during the day, so we’re going to leave at 6pm and arrive at 8. We’ll still be able to get into our rhythm.

From a stress perspective—especially when we do speaking engagements around the country—we never take the last flight. Once, I left my wallet on the car and I had to rush back. I thought I left it at the house. The woman at the gate said ‘can I see your ID, please.’ But I didn’t have it, so I raced back to the car and I told Joanne, ‘you get on the plane.’ It was actually on the roof of the car. I raced back and the plane was on the tarmac so I couldn’t get on. I had to take the last flight. I had to wait another four hours. So when you travel, you try to reduce the stress. Another thing to do to reduce stress is get your Nexus card. People say, ‘I don’t travel to the States a lot.’ But you go to the airport and we know we don’t have wait in security. There’s a Nexus line just for going through regular security in Canada.

Do you have any tips on how to stay healthy and active while on a plane or waiting in the airport?

JM: I bring a BackJoy. I sit on it and it helps to alleviate back pain, stiffness or soreness. When you’re in an airport, you’re sitting. When you’re in a car, you’re sitting. When you’re on the plane, you’re sitting. You go to your meeting and you’re sitting. We tend to sit too much and that’s been the one thing that’s helped me be able to stay active. We’ve been on the tarmac for four hours waiting, another four-hour flight and then a two-hour drive. I’m still able to get up the next day and go for a short run and feel physically well.

HJ: Whether it’s on a plane or sitting at your computer terminal, we’re sitting much more now than ever before. The BackJoy rotates your pelvis so that you’re sitting properly. You’re shoulders go back, you’re pelvis goes forward, and you don’t even know that you’re on it.

Can you share the benefits of staying healthy and active while travelling for work?

HJ: We were coming home one late night through Pearson Airport. We had to walk about 15 minutes before we got to the car, and Joanne says to me ‘you know, you have to be fit to travel.’ We’d been doing a lot of movement and moving around through airports. You have to be proactive and try to strengthen your body so that you’re able to do what you’re able to do right now. And our true wealth is our health.

JM: You sleep better, you’re more productive, you’re less stressed—you just feel better. As a traveller, the worst thing is to get on an airplane and have a headache. Or, you have a sore back. Or you’re just not feeling well. You need to be physically fit to travel and deal with everything that’s thrown at you.

Are you still producing BodyBreak segments and are you planning anything travel related?

HJ: We are. We produced new BodyBreak segments and we’re in Yellowknife. We were there to do three talks for the Canadian Diabetes Association; one in Fort Smith, one in Hay River and one in Yellowknife. We flew into Edmonton and caught a little twin prop to Fort Smith and then caught another little twin prop to Hay River. We then flew from Hay River to Yellowknife on a 1935 Douglas DC 3 operated by Buffalo Airways (featured on the TV show Ice Pilots).

JM: I looked forward to it—but you get used to the bigger aircraft, you get used to getting a drink served to you. But it was exciting. 

Having watched the two of you on Amazing Race I think you guys are up for any type of travel excitement.

JM: I’ve always been kind of an adventurer. I’ve always said, ‘my bag is already packed, I just like going to the airport and travelling.’ What The Amazing Race did was heighten that. You can’t get comfortable—you’ve got to always extend yourself, because that’s what gives you that spark, that life.

That’s probably why the two of you still look so young. I don’t think you guys have aged at all. 

HJ: Unfortunately, we get to look back at ourselves 25 years ago. Most people don’t. Most people don’t have pictures pop up, like, ‘oh yeah, here’s what you looked like back in high school’. Or people come up to us and say, ‘oh, yeah, you’ve changed’. They may have seen a BodyBreak 15 years ago. A key element that you see in people is that as they age they gain weight, and weight is one of the big agers. When you see somebody who’s gotten old, it’s often because they’ve gained weight.

JM: You gain weight because you haven’t been eating properly, you haven’t been hydrating properly and you haven’t been exercising.

Tell us something about yourselves that our readers might not know.

JM: We’re married. It’s the number one question we get asked. We haven’t hidden it. It just seems there are still some people who are unaware of it.

Is there anything you’d like to add to our conversation?

JM: We have the same issues as everyone else in terms of staying motivated to be active and eat healthy. There are so many temptations and things that will stop you from, let’s say, getting your workout in. You just make it a priority. That goes for anyone who fits activity into their day.

For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, park further away from the entrance. Take the stairs when you can. You’re constantly thinking of other things during your day—what you can do to put in a bit more activity, more steps into your day.

HJ: Over the years, Joanne and I have heard every excuse in the book for why people don’t do things. For example, you say you’ve got kids. I’ve got two kids and they’re nine and seven. Well, the kids have to move, you move with the kids. Our daughter goes to hockey and Irish dancing. I took her to an Irish dancing feis (traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival) in Syracuse. I ran and walked about 7.5 miles outside of the facility while she did a bunch of her things and waited around. I got my workout in, but I could have been just like all the other parents and just sat there at the snack bar and had chicken fingers and fries. I came back and watched her compete. She got her workout in, she competed, and I got my workout in.

JM: It’s like with parents who take their kids to soccer—they could walk around the soccer field and still watch their child. And you don’t have to sit to give support or watch. The more you do the better parent you’re going to be in terms of how you feel about yourself, how much energy you have to give to your children. It really isn’t a selfish thing at all to make sure you get up and move. 

Don’t miss Hal and Joanne’s lunch keynote presentation, The Adventures of BodyBreak!

Friday, September 19: 12:45pm-2:00pm
Delegates will receive a FREE, 130-page cookbook – valued at $24.95 AND a 54-page book, FREE to download, containing tips and strategies to live a healthier, more active lifestyle.
Both these books will be available at the end of their address.
PLUS: Delegates will also have a chance to WIN one of three BackJoy Posture+ – valued at $39.99!
To learn more about what Hal and Joanne are up to, please visit:, on Facebook at BodyBreak or on Twitter @bodyBreak