Why Canada needs a Physical Activity Tax Credit for Seniors 

Longevity Part 2: Why Canada needs a Physical Activity Tax Credit for Seniors
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian seniors, and falls can lead to reduced mobility, increased healthcare costs, loss of independence, isolation, mental health decline and even earlier death. As the Canadian population ages, it is vital we prioritize maintaining good health, strong bodies and independence – not only for the well-being of our older population, but for the future of the Canadian healthcare system.


This week, the government announced it will unveil the new budget on April 16th. Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) has submitted several budget recommendations – one of which is a physical activity tax credit for seniors over the age of 55. FIC – the voice of the Canadian fitness industry – believes it is paramount that our older population be incentivized to join a gym, workout with a trainer, or join a fitness class, and research has shown the effectiveness of exercise intervention in improving the lives of seniors.


According to Statistics Canada, approximately 20-30% of seniors experience one or more falls each year, leading to significant healthcare costs and a decline in quality of life. A meta-analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) compiled data from multiple randomized controlled trials and found that exercise programs tailored for older adults significantly decreased the rate of falls by up to 32%.


And it isn’t simply falls that should concern us:


The Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System estimated that 6.3 million adults aged 65 or older were living with chronic health conditions. Four chronic health conditions – cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – account for over 60% of all deaths in Canada. The onset of these diseases can be mitigated by lifestyle changes, and increasing physical activity is one of the most powerful tools we have in health prevention.


What if we could intervene early on, and incentivize seniors towards more physical activity? What if seniors were given a $500 Physical Activity Tax Credit towards gym memberships, personal training or fitness classes?


Exercise intervention is a cost-effective strategy that will have long-term benefits, one of the most compelling being a dramatic reduction in healthcare costs.


According to Statistics Canada, four out of ten Canadians have three or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease; there were almost twice as many women aged 85 years and older diagnosed with ischemic heart disease than men of the same age. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society found that older adults who engaged in regular physical activity experienced a 29% lowered risk of developing cardiovascular diseases compared to their sedentary counterparts; rates of cardiovascular disease increase as we age – and this affects women more than men.


Research conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) highlights the cost-saving potential of exercise to manage chronic health conditions, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. By improving our physical activity levels – which leads to improved function and mobility – we can diminish the need for costly medical interventions later on, such as joint replacement surgeries, and long-term medication use. A study, published in the Journal of Aging and Health found that physically active seniors incurred 38% less healthcare costs compared to their inactive counterparts.


Recently, the World Health Organization estimated that every dollar invested in physical activity interventions yields a $3-5 return in reduced healthcare costs, through curbing chronic health conditions, lower hospitalization rates and less reliance on long-term care services.


And most importantly, we look at quality of life. Physical activity plays a pivotal role in enhancing quality of life, and particularly the ability to live independently. A systematic review published in Age and Ageing found that regular physical activity not only improves physical health but also enhances psychological well-being and cognitive function in older adults. By promoting social engagement and reducing the risk of depression and anxiety, exercise interventions contribute to a higher overall quality of life for seniors.


The ability to retain autonomy is directly related to a sense of purpose and dignity.


The evidence is clear: exercise interventions for seniors offer a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond physical fitness. Through disease prevention, reduced healthcare expenditures, and enhanced quality of life and independence, an investment in improving physical activity levels for seniors will come with significant returns.


As the government tables its budget for 2024, FIC believes that prioritizing and investing in physical activity for seniors is not only economically prudent but also essential for promoting healthy aging and well-being for all.

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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