February is Heart Health Month, where we raise awareness on cardiovascular health, and ways to improve heart health. Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) applauds the joint statement from the Minister of Health and the Minister of Sport and Physical Activity to celebrate Heart Health Month:
“Prevention plays an important role when it comes to heart and cardiovascular disease. Healthy behaviors such as being physically active, eating a variety of healthy foods, limiting highly processed foods, not smoking, getting proper sleep and managing stress can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease.”
Let’s take it one step further: What if we invested in preventing heart disease? Heart disease is the second biggest killer in Canada. According to statistics, 1 in 12 Canadians live with undiagnosed heart disease and every hour 14 Canadians over the age of 20 die from diagnosed heart disease. And while heart disease has hereditary risk factors, behavioral changes, like quitting smoking and improving diet, can significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack. One of the most effective ways of improving our heart is through exercise.
Exercise has powerful, positive effects on our heart. A regular exercise routine lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation in the body, and strengthens our heart muscle by improving the ability to pull oxygen out of the blood. Exercise can also reduce stress, which can also place an extra burden on the heart. A number of studies have shown that people who are physically active are less likely to suffer a sudden cardiac event.
For cardiac rehabilitation patients, there is even more reason to exercise. Researchers found that people who participated in a formal exercise program post heart-attack had a reduced death rate of 20 to 25 percent, and other large-scale studies showed that exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation improves longevity.
In recent years, researchers have studied the impact of disease prevention, and evolving our healthcare system to one aimed at promoting and maintaining overall well-being, preventing diseases and optimizing health throughout our lives. With an aging Canadian population – where, according to data, one in four Canadians will be over the age of 65 by 2040 – this has urgency.
Sick care involves treating and managing illnesses and diseases, diagnosing and intervening with medication, surgeries and medical procedures. This is not only costly, but questionable when we look at quality of life. According to Canada Public Health, the majority of seniors live with two or more chronic illnesses; two-third of seniors are living with hypertension – a precursor for heart disease.
Studies consistently show that an investment in health care, not sick care, can lead to substantial cost savings in the long run. In 2022, The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that unless governments invest in, and implement, effectivephysical inactivity policies.
“Almost 500 million people will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) attributable to physical inactivity, between 2020 and 2030, costing US $27 billion annually, if governments don’t take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their populations.”
What could urgent action look like?
FIC, the voice of the Canadian fitness industry, submitted a budget proposal asking the federal government to invest in physical activity through several key tactics:
- Revise line 33099 of the Federal Income Tax form, allowing gym memberships to be included as a medical expense
- Implement a $500 Physical Activity Tax Credit for Seniors (over 55)
- Provide funding to FIC for a marketing campaign titled ‘Get your 150’, referring to the 150 minutes of moderate to physical activity per week guideline
- Create a scholarship or bursary fund for Canadian youth to support careers in physical activity like kinesiology or exercise science
“Everyone knows that they need to exercise – this isn’t new information, and it isn’t new to our government,” says Gabriel Hardy Executive Director of FIC. “From our data, we know Canadians would be incentivized to join a gym if the government allowed a gym membership to be included as a medical expense. The gym is where people come to improve their heart health, a membership should be considered a health expense.”
In 2021, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador introduced a $2000 per family physical activity tax credit to incentivize its population to get healthier through physical activity. There are similar lobbying efforts for physical activity tax credits in other provinces, but the FIC believes that allowing Canadians to include gym memberships as a medical expense would have a huge impact.
“The movement has begun, and we now need to build the momentum and invest in health care, not sick care,” says Hardy. “As we celebrate Heart Health Month, it is a great moment to discuss heart health prevention and look at ways to improve physical activity levels in 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.