AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNMENT: Let us Help You Make Canada Healthier!

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNMENT
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Minister of Health Mark Holland,

Minister of Sport and Physical Activity Carla Qualtrough,

Members of Parliament

 

We are writing on behalf of the Canadian fitness industry, the big box gyms you see sprouting up across the country, the boutique yoga studios helping their members de-stress, the high intensity training playgrounds and the clubs creating pickleball courts for active seniors.

 

We are writing on behalf of every fitness club owner who has faced adversity, running their business in the pandemic, and is standing on the edge of what we anticipate will be a huge comeback season this January.

 

We are writing on behalf of every Canadian gym goer and fitness enthusiast who wants to live a healthier, longer life.

 

We, the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, the voice of millions of Canadians who own, work in, or use our facilities, would like to extend an invitation for you to help us make Canada the fittest, healthiest country in the world.

 

We would like you to offer you the following solutions to help you achieve this:

1. Implement physical activity credits for all Canadians

You already have leaders who support this cause: Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey, himself a physician who understands the power of exercise to reduce chronic health conditions, lessen the burden on our health care system, improve mental and social health and ultimately reduce healthcare costs, has taken action: In July 2021, he introduced a physical activity tax credit of $2000 per family to help Newfoundland and Labrador become the healthiest province/territory by 2030. In British Columbia, the government has seen the impact that our gyms have on not only physical and mental health, but rates of absenteeism and presenteeism. They are working with Fitness Industry Council of Canada and BC Parks and Recreation to subsidize gym memberships for nurses.

 

Recognizing the gyms are places where Canadians come to improve their health, we have asked you to consider revising line 33099 of the federal income tax form. This is where Canadians can submit receipts for medical expenses – such as Vitamin B12 shots, or hearing aids. There are pages of eligible expenses, and yet the box “Gym Memberships” has “Not Eligible” beside it.

 

We would like to question you on this. If a Canadian, who has just had a heart attack, comes to one of our facilities as part of their cardiac rehabilitation program, why can’t they include their gym membership as an expense? If a senior, who has a history of falling and ending up in the ER, comes to a gym to work on balance and core, isn’t allowing the gym membership to be tax deductible a cost-savings compared to another visit to the ER?

 
2. Introduce a Physical Activity Subsidy for Seniors

If you cannot provide tax credits for all Canadians, please consider a physical activity tax subsidy for seniors in your next budget. We know that active aging is the number one trend globally, and we believe Canada can be a world leader in this movement.

 

The World Health Organization has issued a call to action to all world leaders to improve physical activity levels. In an eye-opening 2022 report the World Health Organization said:

 

Almost 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030, costing US #27 billion dollars annually if governments don’t take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.”

 

More than half of our population is sedentary and not achieving the 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise needed. In addition, physical activity levels decline with age – bringing with it additional healthcare costs. The Canadian government needs to take urgent action to improve physical activity among Canadians.

 

And we are ready to help you do this.

 

We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work. In fact, we have never stopped working for this cause because every single person who works in the fitness industry in Canada shares a purpose: We work daily to improve lives, and to contribute to human health.

 

Fitness is the fastest growing sport in the world

 

Look at the powerful evidence that physical activity will save your government billions of dollars in healthcare costs as you implement effective physical activity strategies that widen access to opportunities for engaging in physical activity. We suggest marketing budgets, support of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, and incentives to get Canadians back to the gym.

 

In a 2021 survey conducted by Fitness Industry Council of Canada, one in three Canadians said that cost was a barrier to achieve a healthy lifestyle. More than 59% said that a tax exemption for gym memberships should be implemented, and 40% of Canadians said that including gym memberships as a medical expense would motivate them to create a fitness routine. Such as provision of public open space, provision of walking and cycling infrastructure, provision of sport and physical education in schools. The report also calls for weaknesses in some existing data to also be addressed.

In a 2023 report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, leading Canadian researchers wrote :

 

The total costs of excessive sedentary behavior in Canada were $2.2 billion (8 h/day cut-point) and $1.8 billion (9 h/day cut-point) in 2021, representing 1.6% and 1.3% of the overall burden of illness costs, respectively. The two most expensive chronic diseases attributable to excessive sedentary behavior were cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. A 10% decrease in excessive sedentary behavior (from 87.7% to 77.7%) would save an estimated $219 million per year in costs.

 

Physical inactivity is now one of the top five leading causes of death worldwide. The three most expensive chronic diseases attributed to inactivity are heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke. A report from Deloitte and Touch found that investing $2000 in successfully helping an inactive person become active results in a payback in less than a year, in terms of a benefit to the economy and our society.    

 

Canadians are motivated to get healthier. Every January, we see motivation kick into higher gear: According to one survey, 48% of respondents put “get fitter” as their number one resolution for 2024. But they also want to improve their mental health; they want to achieve a healthy life. More than any other time in history, Canadians are exercising for a multitude of reasons. The biggest trend we are seeing in 2024 is the “convergence of wellness” – exercise for physical, mental, and social health.

 

The most compelling reason to invest in helping Canadians improve their physical activity levels is that quite simply, it will make our country better. Active Canadians are healthier, take fewer sick days, and are more productive.

 

It will lessen the burden on our healthcare system. There will be lower rates of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and stroke. People who are active have lower rates of cancer, improved brain health and better mental health.

 

The bottom line is clear: the ROI of investing in physical activity is fiscally sound, and will save millions of lives. 

 

Let’s make 2024 the year the Canadian government becomes a world leader in physical activity policies. Invest in the health of all Canadians. Fitness saves lives. Let us help you.

 

We are ready…

Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) is the not-for profit trade association that represents the voice of fitness facility operators across Canada. Representing more than 6,000 facilities with more than six-million members nationwide, FIC pursues a legislative agenda in the hope of bettering the fitness industry for both consumers and operators. FIC aims to work with both industry and government to improve the health and physical activity levels of Canadians.

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