Do you want to live forever? 

Do you want to live forever?

Interventions for a healthier, longer life.

By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

Imagine your routine trip to the doctor, where they take your blood pressure, height and weight and then ask you a very important question: Do you exercise?


This question has the potential to change healthcare as we know it, and to increase not only lifespan but healthspan – where the latter part of our years are spent free of disease and with improved mobility and function. The Physical Activity Vital Sign asks about exercise with two more accurate questions: On average, how many days per week do you engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity? On average, how many minutes do you engage in physical activity at this level?


There are four keys to longevity, and each one unlocks the potential to improve our healthspan: Our VO2 Max, our strength, and the amount of exercise we do each week. Lock in nutrition, and you can significantly improve the last decades of your life!


But are we focused on this at the doctor’s office?


Do we ask the right questions when clients come to us for their first session?


In this final week of Heart Health Month, we turn the focus on healthspan. Until modern medicine made it possible to extend our lives hooked up to machines, our lifespan was roughly the same as healthspan. Lifespan measures years in our life – healthspan measures life in our years. We need to optimize the number of active, healthy and productive years in front of us, and exercise is the best way forward.


When we exercise, we put physiological stress on our lungs, heart and other muscles, which temporarily damage our cells and tissues. A healthy body goes into repair and response mode to heal the damage which helps the walls of the blood vessels become more flexible and elastic. Over time, our heart gets stronger. And while daily physical activity, from walking to gardening, is essential for our healthspan we need to dial in specifics to truly make an impact on the health of Canadians.

Maximizing VO2 Max

VO2 max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense exercise. It serves as a powerful indicator of cardiovascular fitness and overall health. Studies consistently demonstrate a strong correlation between higher VO2 max levels and increased longevity. Regular aerobic exercise, such as running, cycling, or swimming, is the most effective way to improve VO2 max. HIIT workouts are an efficient way to boost VO2 max.


Optimizing Nutrition

Nutrition plays a fundamental role in supporting overall health and longevity. A balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, provides essential nutrients and antioxidants that help combat inflammation and oxidative stress, two processes implicated in aging and chronic disease.


Strength and Stability Training

While aerobic exercise is crucial for cardiovascular health, strength training is equally vital for maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and metabolic function, especially as we age. Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, is a significant contributor to frailty and disability in older adults. In Canada, falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among people aged 65 or older. Injuries from falls reduce older adults’ quality of life, increase caregiver demands, and precipitate admissions into long-term care. Strength and stability exercises can stimulate muscle growth and help preserve lean tissue over time.


Maintaining Adequate Physical Activity Levels

In addition to structured exercise sessions, maintaining an active lifestyle throughout the day is essential for overall health and longevity. Recent research has shown that prolonged sitting is linked to numerous health risks, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality. Incorporating regular movement breaks, such as walking meetings or stretching sessions, can help counteract the negative effects of sedentary behavior.


How Much Physical Activity Do We Really Need?

While physical activity guidelines stipulate that we need 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week to offset chronic health conditions, two large studies found that working out two to four times beyond the minimum vigorous physical activity recommendation led to lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and those who worked out two to four times above the moderate physical activity recommendations – on average between 500 and 600 minutes weekly – saw the most benefit – including a 26-31% lowered risk in all cause-mortality and a 28-38% lowered risk of non-cardiovascular disease mortality. 


Impact of Physical Activity on Long Term Health Care Costs

Lifelong exercise adds up to huge savings: A study, published in the New York Times, found that starting exercise before or during middle age can lead to annual savings ranging from $824 to $1,874 on healthcare costs after retirement. The earlier individuals start exercising, the greater the potential savings. The study underscores the financial benefits of exercise alongside its well-known health benefits.


The need for physical activity interventions is urgent: In a sweeping report on physical activity levels worldwide, The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that almost 500 million people will develop noncommunicable diseases due to physical inactivity between 2020 and 2030, costing $27 billion annually. While Canada is one of the countries that has guidelines, there needs to be more clear policies and funding in place to help Canadians achieve physical activity guidelines.

Fitness Industry Council of Canada has submitted federal budget proposals that could have an immediate and lasting impact on our physical activity levels. We have proposed the government revise line 33099 of the federal tax form, allowing gym memberships to be considered a medical expense, with the clear understanding that people who are physically active put less strain on the healthcare system. FIC has also proposed the government put into place a Physical Activity Tax Credit for seniors.


The political will exists: The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador implemented a $2000 per family Physical Activity Tax Credit in 2021. “The government recognizes the vital role physical activity plays in helping lead healthy, active and balanced lives and remains committed to supporting initiatives that promote healthy, active living.”


Let us focus on how we create healthy, active lives for all Canadians.        

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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