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By Sara Hodson             

No one could have imagined the explosion of online fitness when the world shut down in March 2020. No one could have foreseen this would not be short-lived, that the pandemic would persist, forcing the fitness industry into upheaval and rapid change. We had to adapt quickly – my own business, LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic, went into overdrive, launching a virtual platform within seven days of the initial lockdown.  

We thought the pandemic would be a few weeks…. then a few months; we did not think pandemic living would become the new way of life. As a small business owner, it is challenging to watch your revenues dwindle while your expenses mount. Fitness facilities pivoted not only to provide livestream and on-demand programming – we also changed ventilation systems, reduced capacities in our gyms, and invested heavily in PPE. As we finish off 2021, we live in a world where the future of fitness is hybrid and the industry is still working hard to get our members back. 

In March 2021, a survey revealed that two-thirds of Canadians had paused or cancelled their gym membership– what is more concerning for those of us in the industry is that 29 per cent of those surveyed say they have no plans on returning. A percentage of those members who used to come to the gym argue that they love the convenience of at-home workouts. According to a study from Run Repeat, of the current running population in Canada,  28 per cent of those runners began during the pandemic.  

For a gym owner, it might feel like you are standing in the middle of a forest fire. Although we have seen members come back, they have not returned in the droves we originally imagined when the vaccine passport came into effect. Gyms are safe – in fact, according to data from IHRSA, gyms have some of the lowest COVID-19 transmission rates for any industry.  

So let’s go back to that forest fire.  

What happens to the soil after a fire?  

It becomes more fertile.  

I believe 2022 will be the year that fitness comes back stronger than ever before.  We are standing at the precipice of a new change – one where we have more clients than ever before.  

There are opportunities for engagement on three fronts:  

  • THE VIRTUAL EXERCISER:  it is time to get the virtual fitness lover back to the gym. A new client emerged in the pandemic – the one who had two important barriers to exercise:  time and confidence. Before the pandemic, the number one reason people cited for not exercising was lack of time. With lockdown, this new client found online fitness, and developed something they had not had before – confidence in their ability to exercise. For this new exerciser, stuck at home and with more time on their hands, who chose to  exercise, we have the potential to introduce them to the joy of community and in-person fitness – there is nothing like big beats in a spin studio, or a high five at the end of a great class! In the last few months, we have seen Peloton’s stock fell by 25 per cent in November – people are craving human connection, which is what the fitness industry does so well.  
  • THE EXERCISER WHO NEEDS HELP: Canadians need trained fitness professionals. Although I encourage exercise in any form, and many of our clients have been walking more during the pandemic, we need to do more for those who are fearful of exercising, or have never done it before. The expertise and programming that a qualified fitness professional or a Clinical Exercise Physiologist can provide is invaluable. Seniors need resistance training for brain health, bone health and mobility; a cardiac rehab patient needs to know how to exercise safely for their recovery. For someone who has experienced chronic pain or illness, working with a trained professional is not only recommended – it is necessary.    
  • THE SEDENTARY EXERCISER: The pandemic stopped us in our tracks – Canadians become more sedentary than ever before. In a report released at the end of November, 88 per cent of Canadians reported sitting more since the pandemic began. According to Statistics Canada, more than half of the population was not getting the necessary 150 minutes of exercise prior to the pandemic, and we are expected to see a rise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic health concerns. 

As President of Canada’s Fitness Industry Council (FIC), and an expert in Exercise as Medicine, I am concerned about the toll inactivity is having on us – and the cost this will have on our healthcare system in the years to come.  I am committed to change. We need to motivate and inspire Canadians to move again. And here is what is interesting: they know that exercise is good for them. Many Canadians have been prescribed exercise by their physicians. We now have the Prescription to Get Active, a program that is expected to grow exponentially across the country, allowing physicians to write prescriptions for exercise – and fitness facilities to provide 30 days of free exercise. This is a game changer.  

We need to create a Movement in 2022.  

Our time is now.  

The FIC proposed that the federal government make gym memberships tax deductible, an initiative supported by Diabetes Canada, Heart and Stroke, and the Canadians Cardiovascular Society. According to data compiled in June 2021, one in three Canadians say cost is a barrier to establishing a healthy lifestyle; 59 per cent of Canadians believe the federal government should implement a tax exemption for gym memberships, and 40 per cent of Canadians would be motivated to join a gym if there was a financial incentive.  

The fitness industry believes in resiliency and the power to change people’s lives. But these are dark times: More than 40 per cent of fitness businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic began.  

Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees. 

But I encourage us to look closer. On the other side of this forest is great opportunity and potential. Canada could lead the way globally, becoming the healthiest nation in the world, one where we finally push the needle and help Canadians adopt a healthy lifestyle, once and for all.  

The fitness industry is needed. 

This is Not the Time to Be Still. 

Let us get Canadians back to the gym in 2022. 


Sara Hodson is CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic and President of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada. To find out more about starting a LIVE WELL franchise and investing in the health of your community, please click here.