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Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, under the umbrella of BodyBreak, have been encouraging Canadians to live a healthy, active lifestyle for more than 30 years.

John Muscedere is CEO of the Canadian Frailty Network and a professor in the School of Medicine at Queen’s University.

Many Canadians of a certain vintage will recall our 90-second “Body Break” TV spots. In April, 1989, we started showing Canadians how to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their lives. The public service announcements – friendly reminders viewers watched while snacking in front of the TV – were part of a wider strategy to address the worrisome drop in Canadians’ level of physical activity.

Today, regular physical activity is universally recognized as a pillar of preventative medicine. Even so, four out of five Canadians are still not spending the recommended minimum 150 minutes per week engaged in physical activity.

This was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

As fitness and health experts, we are concerned that prolonged lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic have reduced physical activity levels even further.

People who entered the pandemic with a structured, individualized workout regimen in place likely have been able to maintain it. However, those who relied on activities such as team sports or daily errands or volunteering to stay limber may have had difficulty adapting to the abrupt ground shift.

A sharp decline in physical activity can set a number of interlocking health issues in motion, including loss of energy, muscle strength and balance, especially among older adults. The result is increased frailty, which undermines the body’s ability to cope with minor illness and can lead to more serious health deterioration that requires acute care.

The pandemic has made resilience, especially among older Canadians, more important than ever. There are currently 1.6-million Canadians living with frailty. In 10 years, this number is expected to rise to 2.5-million. But frailty can be prevented.

The Canadian Frailty Network has developed a five-step AVOID Frailty strategy that provides a holistic framework to support healthy aging.

The first, and most foundational, step is activity. Staying active improves your ability to perform daily tasks, prevents weak bones and muscle loss, improves joint mobility and sleep quality, reduces the risk of chronic conditions and dementia, extends independent living and reduces the likelihood of a fall. In 2017-18, 81 per cent of injury hospitalizations in Canadians aged 65 and older were due to falls.

So, we’ve been invited to get Canadians moving again, to help get hearts pumping, strengthen muscles and improve balance. With the Canadian Frailty Network, we have created new two-minute videos designed to prevent frailty among older Canadians. We demonstrate exercises that can be done in the safety and security of your own home with no special equipment required.

No one was ready for the instability caused by COVID-19. Unfortunately, for many, physical activity was the first item to fall off the priority list.

Since March, 2020, non-profit organizations focused on healthy living have built up resources to help Canadians of any age prevent the onset of frailty during this extraordinarily challenging time. Here are some of the top recommendations and tips from the Canadian Frailty Network:

  • The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) developed 24-hour movement guidelines grouped by age with advice for how much you should be sitting, moving and sleeping each day.
  • Download the ParticipAction app to help keep you motivated and on track with recommended movement guidelines.
  • Try a YMCA workout at home.
  • Learn ballet through Canada’s National Ballet School.
  • Walking, even during the winter months, is great for the body and mind. To prevent a fall, be sure to wear ice grippers. Your local library may even offer them on loan.
  • Explore a new outdoor activity, such as birdwatching.
  • Don’t forget – household chores count, too!

Together, we can all “keep fit and have fun.”

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