Keep moving during COVID-19

by Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, with John Muscedere
QUOI Media

Many Canadians of a certain vintage will recall our 90-second “Body Break” TV spots. In April of 1989, we started showing Canadians how to incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their lives. The public service announcements — friendly reminders 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 regime in place have been most likely able to maintain it. However, those who relied on activities like 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 requiring 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 two and a half 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, improves sleep quality, reduces the risk of chronic conditions, extends years of activity and independent living, lowers the risk of dementia and reduces the likelihood of a fall and further injuries.
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.

Explore these many resources and share them with friends and loved ones:
• The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) developed 24-hour movement guidelines grouped by age. Learn more about how much you should be sitting, moving and sleeping each day.

• Join the 100,000 + people who have downloaded the ParticipAction app to help keep you motivated and on track with recommended movement guidelines.

• Try a YMCA workout at home:

• Study 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 have them on loan.

• Explore a new outdoor activity, like birdwatching.

• Don’t forget – household chores count, too!

• For other COVID-friendly, low-risk outdoor activities, visit:

Together, we can all ‘keep fit and have fun.’

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

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