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The Future of Fitness in Canada

Image of Sara Hodson, BHK, ACSM CCEP, is Founder and CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic
Sara Hodson, BHK, ACSM CCEP, is Founder and CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic

Together we will move. 

The last 14 months have proven something fundamental to Canadians. 

Our health has never been more important.  

Health is wealth.  And it is the only currency we need.   

 Prior to the pandemic, the fitness industry in Canada was booming, we employed 150,000 people, servicing six million Canadians who held gym memberships. The needle was moving in the right direction – as a population, we were exercising more and getting healthier together.

 Fitness industry leaders were helping combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and mental health illnesses that affect millions of Canadians.  

And then the pandemic hit. And it hit us hard.  

In the last year, gyms have remained closed in many parts of the country, and those that are open are in threat of closure on a routine basis, due to COVID exposures, or are operating at significantly reduced capacities. Fitness owners have invested heavily in digital platforms, increased ventilation systems, sanitation, PPE, as well as revising architecture and spaces for safe social distancing. There has been more revenue going out than coming in. According to one report, two-thirds of Canadians have paused or cancelled their gym memberships, and many claim they are never going back to a gym.  

At the moment, the situation is bleak. Every day, gyms close across the country for good. But dark times never last. The gym will be back, stronger than ever.  Here is why.  

Canadians need leaders. 

Trained fitness professionals will be more in demand than ever before. Canadians are acutely aware that chronic illness is on the rise, and our mental health is in crisis. We need trust heroes, someone who is going to meet you on your fitness journey and lift you up, providing expertise, form, technique and, most importantly, a reason to get to your workout. At a deeper level, we need the power of the group – lots of research shows that group fitness, which has been quiet for the last 14 months, provides us with added health benefits.  

Canadians need exercise. 

Canadians need exercise more than ever. According to various reports, the pandemic stopped us in our tracks – literally and figuratively.  More than one-third of Canadians are more sedentary than ever, and 20 per cent of Canadians who had been active before the pandemic became inactive. Less than 20 per cent of Canadians are getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to physical exercise. A survey done before the pandemic found that Canadians overestimate the amount of exercise that they do get, too.  It is estimated that more than 10 million Canadians will live with obesity by 2025 – and the cost of treating this will be in the billions of dollars. Exercise is a powerful tool in this fight.    

Canadians need a mental health solution. 

The pandemic tore a hole in the fabric of our mental health. Prior to the pandemic, depression, stress, anxiety, and suicide levels were rising; the pandemic sent them into the stratosphere.  One in five Canadians experiences or lives with a mental health illness in any given year; in this pandemic year, 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated. McMaster University recently coined the term “Pandemic Paradox” where Canadians want to exercise to relieve stress and anxiety, but stress and anxiety is preventing them from doing so. But the good news is that three 30-minute doses of exercise are as effective as antidepressant medication. We need to promote this solution to all Canadians.  

Canadians need community.  

Although the future of fitness is a hybrid model of virtual and in-person, nothing will ever replace the power of community, accountability, and the true meaning of stronger togetherThis is where history will change us: 2020 might have been the year of working out at home. But 2021 will be the year where we come back together again. Working out with a group boosts motivation, and can also increase your intensity. The Kohler Effect – that no one wants to be the weakest in the group – found that those who planked with another person could hold the plank 24 per cent longer. But most importantly, having support and accountability pushes you past where you want to go. 

Canadians need health. 

Fitness Industry Council of Canada supports the Prescription to Get Active, a program aimed at connecting physicians with Canadians who are not getting 150 minutes of physical activity per week and providing them the prescription they need to get moving again! Fitness facilities across Canada are providing one month of free exercise for anyone with an exercise prescription. We are planning to work with the health and medical communities and expanding this unique program to make sure all Canadians are motivated to move again. 

 2021 is the year we come back together again. And it is the year we move together again. 


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