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Pete Pallett warms up for one of his many spin classes. Pete has been a regular since before the pandemic. Photo: Austin Johnson

Canadian seniors take exercise seriously in post-pandemic world

Increased exercise habits among older Canadians in the wake of the pandemic could be attributed to technology adoption.

By Austin Johnson , in City , on November 25, 2023

Pete Pallett is a regular in his community spin class. He loves the sense of unity and camaraderie that fitness classes foster but, most of all, he loves feeling strong. Exercise has been essential in his life and, at 70 years old, he shows no sign of stopping.

“I was fairly active right from the start as soon I got sober in 1994,” said Pallett. “I try and do three to four spin classes a week and one or two strength-training classes.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pallett did his best to maintain his active lifestyle despite fitness-studio closures. He was among many Canadian seniors to do so, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.

Canadians 65 and older increased their physical activity by approximately 30 minutes weekly from 2018 to 2021, according to the report. They were the only adult demographic to see an increase over the pandemic period. Men between 18 and 64 decreased their physical activity, while women’s activity levels stayed the same.

Josh Ferreira, an occupational therapist who works with the senior community in Vancouver, believes technology is responsible for this fitness uptick in seniors.

“A lot of this increase in exercise actually came from a rapid adoption of technology that was kind of forced on older adults,” says Ferreira, citing several studies showing a push in Canada to help older Canadians learn technology like Zoom. What was initially meant to help with isolation during COVID-19 has also allowed older adults to add online fitness classes to their daily routine.

The resulting increase in activity was beneficial to the older group, said Ferreira, because, as the older population grows, physical health plays a larger role in caring for elderly Canadians. According to Health Canada, exercise and weight training have lasting benefits for the elderly. They help against bone-degenerative diseases and are proven to help with osteoarthritis.

“We know that people who are active as older adults age better, cognitively and physically.,” says Ferreira, “They stay stronger and can be independent for longer.”

Looking at what this study means for the future of healthcare in Canada, Ferreira said, “It’s too early to tell if it has made a lasting impact yet. From a personal and professional standpoint, I’m really hoping for an impact that’s lasting in older adults.”

With the return of in class fitness, trainers must find a way to engage the older community. Photo: Danielle Cerullo

But one longtime personal trainer says he sees a gap in the fitness industry when engaging with older adults. Cormac McCarthy, owner of Shamrock Athletics, believes there is a responsibility on the trainers to find ways of connecting with older Canadian citizens.

“During COVID-19, the health of a lot of older people was affected in more severe ways than younger people,” said McCarthy. “I think that really woke up the older population in understanding that they now need to look at their health on a day-to-day basis.”

For McCarthy, the most important part in anyone’s exercise journey is to just get started.

“Getting people in the door and into structured fitness routines opens up their minds to new goals and new things they want to achieve in their life.”

Pallett is thrilled that he can now return to his previous fitness routine. Since the gym restrictions were lifted, the return to exercise classes have given Pallett a renewed sense of purpose in maintaining his health.

“The feeling that everybody felt — coming back and getting active again — I can just sense that energy.,” said Pallett. “We’re all just so grateful to be back.”