Fitness | The Canadian Encyclopedia



The Canada Fitness Survey (1981 with a longitudinal follow-up in 1989), involved nearly 12 000 households in 80 urban and rural communities across Canada. Approximately 16 000 people, aged 7 to 69 years, participated in a fitness test, and 22 000 completed a questionnaire.


 Broadly defined, fitness is a state of physical, mental and social well-being. Concern for becoming and staying fit is increasingly important to Canadians. Interest is reflected in all age groups, but involvement in physical activity by people 60 years of age and over has increased 3 times faster than that of younger people over the past few years.

The Canada Fitness Survey (1981 with a longitudinal follow-up in 1989), involved nearly 12 000 households in 80 urban and rural communities across Canada. Approximately 16 000 people, aged 7 to 69 years, participated in a fitness test, and 22 000 completed a questionnaire. The results of the survey provided a comprehensive picture of fitness in Canada.

Physical Activity Patterns

According to the survey, 11.5 million Canadians (56% of those aged 10 and over) are physically active in their leisure time; walking is a favourite activity, followed by gardening, bicycling, swimming and jogging. Active Canadians are more likely to be young and to be westerners, managers and professionals, single and better educated.

The survey also found that active Canadians score higher on all measures of health and emotional well-being; that strength and muscular endurance decline rapidly after age 25; that females are more supple than males but that suppleness in both sexes declines precipitously after age 25.

Based on the survey results, an estimated 46% of Canadians achieved a recommended level of cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness, 33% reached the minimal level of fitness and the remaining 20% of Canadians were assessed as unfit. Males are fitter than females and the young are generally fitter than the old.

The findings are somewhat biased as an ever-increasing number of Canadians over the age of 40 were screened out of the testing for medical reasons. Seventy-eight percent of persons in the survey placed "regular physical activity" in the top 5 components of a healthy life, behind such basic components as adequate sleep and nutrition. In a 1985 survey of health attitudes, exercise was the most cited activity that Canadians did to improve their health.

International Comparisons

In 1972 ParticipACTION introduced the famous comparison between the 60-year-old Swede and the 30-year-old Canadian in a 15-second television commercial. The idea that a 60-year-old Swede was fitter than a 30-year-old Canadian captured the nation's imagination. In fact, only when Sweden and other countries undertake a survey as comprehensive as Canada's Fitness Surveys can true comparisons be made.

Canadian researchers are well recognized in the international fitness community. In 1988 Canada will host the first international conference on exercise, fitness and health. Researchers from around the world will meet in Toronto to review the latest scientific evidence and make recommendations for new programs and policies.

Federal and Provincial Fitness Programs

The first federal program arose out of research into fitness conducted by the RCAF in the 1950s. The 5BX exercise program (5 Basic eXercises) was designed to aid airmen and their support units in keeping fit during long journeys away from their base facilities. 5BX became one of the first and most widely used fitness programs in North America.

The fitness movement of the 1970s and 1980s was generated partly through the efforts of the federal and provincial governments. Fitness Canada, the federal government agency with a mandate to "encourage, promote and develop increased participation of physical activity leading towards fitness for all Canadians," has created a number of national programs and resources and has undertaken co-operative work with national agencies in the physical activity and health field.

Fitness Canada was formed in 1979 from the Fitness and Recreation branches of the Fitness and Amateur Sports Directorate. ParticipACTION, an independent nonprofit communications company funded by Fitness Canada, is a unique and successful model for encouraging Canadians to become involved in regular physical activity. Fitness Canada sponsors Canada's "Fitweek" in May of each year. Millions of Canadians get involved in physical activity during this week.

Every provincial government in Canada, through departments of recreation, youth, culture, tourism or health, promotes fitness through physical activity. The organization of each program varies, ranging from the large Kino Québec network with over 100 community offices to the typical agency in a smaller province in which a small core of professionals works with voluntary agencies across the province.

In October 1998, acknowledging a continuing problem, 44 national organizations representing health care professionals, educators, dietitians, employers, not-for-profit organizations and governments formally endorsed Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living. Produced by Health Canada and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, it is targeted at sedentary individuals.

Voluntary Fitness Agencies and Organizations

in Canada work in the fields of fitness, SPORT and recreation. More than a million Canadians are actively involved in these organizations as coaches, board members, officials and helpers, and many millions more are involved as participants.

Some of the voluntary organizations, such as running clubs, serve one community; others, such as those created for organized sport, sponsor community clubs across the country and are organized into provincial chapters and a national organization to govern the sport nationally and internationally. In the field of fitness development, the YMCA and the YWCA have been very influential.

Commercial Fitness Centres

Their proliferation through the late 1980s and 1990s means that few, if any, Canadian municipalities are without one. Standard qualifications for leaders conducting fitness testing have been developed by the Fitness Accreditation and Certification program (FACA) of the Canadian Association for Sports Sciences. While national guidelines for fitness leadership exist, no certification program exists in Canada. Good program leaders should have completed a recognized training program from the provincial agency, the YMCA or YWCA, or a university or national association. Fitness centres can apply for accreditation if they meet the standards set by the FACA program.

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