By Sara Hodson
In March 2020, two pandemics collided: COVID-19 and physical inactivity.
Prior to COVID-19, inactivity was a leading global concern. The Lancet medical journal wrote: In view of the prevalence, global reach and health effect of physical inactivity, the issue should be appropriately described as pandemic, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental, and social consequences (July 2012)
The reality is that COVID-19 has made us more sedentary – instead of using physical activity to help us fight COVID, we became more sedentary and gyms were closed – mostly due to fear of the unknown. One pandemic accelerated another. Lockdown and restrictions made us more inactive and our physical and mental health suffered. We could access alcohol, fast food, and cigarettes, but we could not step foot in a fitness facility with ease.
The crisis has had global reach – physical activity all around the world plummeted. Gyms and community centres were shut down even though the global transmission rate for new COVID-19 cases in fitness facilities is 0.06%, among the lowest rates of transmissions recorded.
The pandemics stopped us in our tracks – literally and figuratively. More than 80 percent of Canadians were inactive – translated to more than thirty million people not getting enough exercise. Our inactivity caused a ripple effect of physical and mental health issues. We were already in a bad place but it got worse - a lot worse.
Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, the financial impact of physical inactivity is estimated at $15 billion dollars per year.
In January 2021, the Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) made an unprecedented move: It proposed that the federal government make gym memberships and services tax deductible to help the fitness industry survive the economic pandemic, to save federal healthcare dollars, and to fundamentally change how Canadians perceive fitness. The FIC presented compelling data on the cost of inactivity in Canada – proving that a healthier and more active population could save the government billions of dollars annually. It showed how an active population was physically and mentally healthier, and put less strain on health care systems.
So imagine it now. It’s March 2025.
The pandemic is in our rear view mirror, but it is a part of us. It caused us to pause…to grow personally, professionally and globally.
It changed how we live our lives.
We now live in a Brave New World.
A Strong New World. Most importantly, A Healthy New World.
In March 2025, it has been four years since the advocacy efforts of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada were successful. The April 2021 Federal Budget reflected an amendment to the medical expense category - line 33099 - making fitness memberships and services (from Canadian based businesses) eligible as a tax deduction for ALL CANADIANS. This decision received international applause and catapulted Canada as a global leader for elevating physical fitness to its rightful position as the backbone of healthcare.
Our nation and its leaders were celebrated across the world!
The needle is now moving in the right direction.
More than half of the Canadian population exercises daily - which is our greatest achievement. In 2025 Canadians have returned to fitness facilities at unprecedented levels, stimulating economic growth across the country. Fitness is booming!
Thousands of doctors are prescribing exercise daily. There are record-breaking numbers of young people drawn towards exercise science, kinesiology, group fitness and personal training as a career choice. In fact, in 2025 the fitness industry has become one of the fastest growing fields in the country for young people aged 18-29.
When Canada became the first country to place exercise at the centre of its national healthcare strategy, we became a global leader in exercise and health prevention. Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain followed our example, and today we are seeing healthier populations begin to thrive all around the globe. The Lancet now points to Canada as the country that paved the way for global change. We think differently about exercise. We practice exercise as medicine.
The specific health care cost-savings have been astounding and are related to the significant reduction in chronic disease:
Hypertension has reduced by 33% Diabetes has reduced by 25% Cardiovascular Disease is down 33% Risk of stroke has been reduced by 31% Risk of colon cancer has dropped by 30% Mortality and risk of recurrent breast cancer has been reduced by 25%, Alzheimer’s has been reduced by 40% and risk of premature death by 31%.
The financial upside of this tax incentive has provided the government with significant healthcare cost savings – translating to 500 million dollars per year in tax savings for Canadians.
We are rolling up our collective sleeves and getting the work done. Canadians are taking better care of their health - relying on the accountability and connected community we access when we participate in fitness. Community, tribe, squad, leadership – we are stronger together.
Where we have seen the biggest impacts is the mental health of Canadians. In 2021, mental health was at a crisis level – suicide rates had increased dramatically, substance abuse was affecting many Canadians, and depression, stress and anxiety had skyrocketed. No one knew how to stop the tsunami – but the fitness industry did.
We knew that even a 10-minute exercise session at a moderate-intensity could have the same effect as antidepressant medication. We knew that exercise boosted endorphins and serotonin levels – but we needed to communicate to Canada that movement is medicine. We needed to help the sick and sedentary get active, and that’s exactly what happened when the Canadian federal government passed fitness memberships and services as a medical expense tax deduction.
The government’s move to support fitness helped us achieve this, and today there are less prescriptions written for antidepressants. With more than 15 million Canadians getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, this has had a domino effect in hospitals and doctors offices: less visits, less illness, less depression, less costs.
It is working. Our nation is healthier, and happier.
Like a garden blooming with flowers, gyms have popped up all across the country. The medical expense tax deduction opened new doors allowing fitness memberships to rebound and even exceed pre-COVID participation numbers. We continue to gain momentum with every passing year.
In 2025, more Canadians are moving than ever before.
Just imagine, it’s March 2025, and we are doing okay, We are better than okay.
If another pandemic comes our way, it will NOT be physical inactivity!
It simply will not.