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Hopefully the end of an era is not the end of fitness for some

Dr. Steven Heidinger writes about the closure of the Moose Jaw YMCA
Wellness Column by Dr. Steven Heidinger

Along with many local citizens, I was saddened to hear that our local chapter of the YMCA will be closing their fitness facilities in Moose Jaw. While I am saddened, I am not surprised. According to their website, the local YMCA has faced financial challenges “due to declining memberships, increasing annual operating expenses, increased capital demands from ageing facilities that needed big investments as well as increased competition.” 

The latter, “increased competition,” was the reason I was not surprised by the news of impending closure.  

The good news in Canada is that the fitness industry in our country has enjoyed an average growth of nearly seven per cent in each of the last five years. With this growth, there are more and more fitness facilities opening, and with stiffening competition there is always the risk of casualties.  

When I first moved to Moose Jaw over 25 years ago, you could count on one hand the number of fitness facilities in our community (and I suspect the YMCA garnered the greatest market share). Now, there are a significant number of options for the fitness consumer; a greater number of facilities all offering a wide range of services. Moose Jaw is following the national trend in fitness industry growth.  

Over the last 25 years there have been numerous fitness facilities not only opening, but also closing. When hearing of any of those businesses closing, most of us probably didn’t even bat an eye, but upon hearing of the YMCA closing, the public outcry has been deafening. Why the difference?

After reading social media response to the news, I was intrigued by how many assumed (wrongly) that the YMCA was a city facility and that the city should not allow this to fail. I think this impression exists widespread due to the long history of community support from which the YMCA benefitted for well over a century. If any sort of taxpayer support existed, it was in the form of low rent offered at city owned infrastructure. But, for the most part, subsidy came from the community in the form of donations, fundraising, volunteerism, and endowment.

As the end nears, the remaining 2,500 members will have to decide on their future fitness. Some will join one of the many private facilities, however there are many that will struggle to find a facility that suits their needs. For many, the YMCA was the place they felt a sense of community, a place that was very affordable, a place where the city’s youth could exercise or just hang out and throw a few baskets.

While the private sector will take on many of these displaced members, I worry for those who will no longer have a fitness facility to go to. With the importance of regular exercise in the health of the individual and society as a whole, should governments step forward to subsidize community centred facilities like the YMCA?

Since publicly funded Medicare has existed in Canada, the government essentially subsidizes treatment of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. We pay for those who get sick from not exercising, yet we neglect to support fitness programs that are supposed to prevent these costly diseases.

Let’s hope there is a future of fitness for all citizens of Moose Jaw.

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