Wake up & Workout sign

Let’s get physically fit: Fitness advice for newcomers

By Maria Montemayor

Posted on January 21, 2021
Wake up and Workout sign

According to a study done by the Alberta Centre for Active Living, immigrants to Canada are less likely than those born in Canada to be physically active. Why is this the case? While most newcomers to Canada may be interested in physical activities like sports, they can face significant difficulties when it comes to participating in them. The barriers may be related to motivation, moral support, finances, time, information, and resources.

Although there are barriers to fitness for newcomers, there are also solutions. Here are some of the ways you can overcome some of the barriers to physical activity that you may have encountered since arriving in Canada.

Motivation

Maybe you like the idea of exercising but aren’t sure if you can fully commit to an exercise routine. In order to be physically fit, you have to desire consistent physical activity in your life. Without the motivation to live a healthy and active life, you won’t achieve that lifestyle. Therefore, you need to identify your motivation for engaging in physical activities. Below are some questions you can ask yourself.

  • Do I want to lose weight?
  • Do I want to gain muscle?
  • Do I want to become physically and mentally stronger?
  • Do I want to relieve stress?
  • Do I want to be healthy?
  • Do I want to be more flexible?
  • Do I want to learn new sports, exercises, or skills?
  • Do I want to prevent illnesses and injuries?

Write down all of your reasons for wanting to exercise. Once you have reasons for exercising, you are more likely to follow through with your exercise routine.

After you write down your motivations for getting in shape, you can start listing specific exercises and activities that you enjoy doing and that can help you reach your goals. You may enjoy stretching, dancing, playing basketball, swimming, or lifting weights. Include all of the fitness activities that bring you joy.

Next, write down all of the exercises and activities that you want to learn how to do. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to ice skate or rollerblade. Maybe you want to take a Pilates class for the first time. Be as ambitious as you want while you brainstorm.

Once you have brainstormed all of the exercises and activities you would like to do, you can start creating a fitness plan. Although all of the fitness activities in your list may seem fun and exciting to do, now you must be strategic and realistic about what you can actually start doing.

Sticking to a fitness schedule is a lot harder than it seems. Choose activities and exercises that are accessible, meet your fitness goals (e.g., you want to gain muscle, so you work on lifting weights), and are a bit challenging. When an activity is a bit challenging, it encourages effort and mental and physical growth. Don’t choose workouts that are so easy that you can do them without breaking a sweat.

Women working out

Moral support

As a newcomer, family members and friends can play a crucial role in motivating you, supporting you, and keeping you accountable when it comes to your physical activity. When you have someone to workout with or take a fitness class with, you enjoy working out more.

While you may feel like you are letting yourself down when you skip out on a class or workout session, you will feel even worse if you’re disappointing a friend or family member, who is supporting your fitness journey. Even having an accountability partner who just checks in on you to make sure that you’re completing your exercises can help keep you on track with your fitness goals.

If you have not yet made friends in Canada, have no relatives in Canada with you, or don’t have family members to encourage you on your fitness journey, you can befriend colleagues, co-workers, and people you meet that value working out.

Even if you don’t make new friends in Canada, you can still ask family members and friends who live abroad for their support and encouragement when you connect with them over the phone, through social media, or through video chat.

Finances

When you first come to Canada, you may not yet have the financial means to support yourself and your family. Your priorities may include finding a job, purchasing or renting a home, and getting your family settled in Canada. Paying for a gym membership may be the last thing on your mind. The good news is that you don’t need to invest in gym equipment, a personal trainer, or a gym membership in order to exercise.

While trial gym memberships are an option, you can also access free recreation programs offered at local community centres. The free classes tend to fill up quickly, so it would be best for you to register early. Many community centres also offer free drop-in options, including drop-in skating and swimming programs.

Additionally, public libraries can offer free fitness programs and resources, like audiobook CDs, DVDs, and books on sports, exercises, and workouts. All you need to do is register for a library card at your nearest public library.

Biking

Transportation

If you do not live near a community centre or public library, own a car, know someone who could give you a ride, or want to pay fares to attend a fitness class or program, there are forms of exercise that do not require you to travel far.

  • You can do standing and sitting stretches at home.
  • You can take a walk, jog, or bike around your neighbourhood.
  • You can go to nearby parks with outdoor fitness equipment and use the outdoor pull-up and parallel bars.

If you have internet access, you can go on YouTube and search for workouts that don’t require any equipment, like Zumba. They can be done from the comfort of your home.

Another benefit of using YouTube to look for workout videos is that you can find exercises and workouts taught by instructors who speak your mother tongue. While most in-person instructors provide visual demonstrations of the various exercises and you can easily copy the actions of other participants, listening to someone teach you exercises in your mother tongue may be more helpful to you.

Timing

Finding the time to exercise may be the biggest barrier you encounter. Whether you are in school, working, or looking after children, it may seem impossible to squeeze in that extra time to exercise. After a long day of school or work, you may want to spend the rest of your evening eating, relaxing, and sleeping. It’s crucial to remember your motivations, plans, and goals. Choose days and times to exercise that complement your work or school schedule.

If you’re in school, some colleges and universities offer free gym membership, fitness classes, and sports activities for students. You can take advantage of those facilities, classes, and sports before or after your lectures. Talk to your registrar if you have any questions about their fitness programs. If you work during the day, try to exercise either in the morning before you head to work or later in the evenings.

Information and resources

Lastly, many free fitness programs, classes, and facilities are available for newcomers but are hard to find. If you need help finding an available program, you can Google search for “free recreation” or “free [insert name of the sport/activity]” and the name of your city. You can also search for your nearest library and community centre on Google and ask for information on exercise and recreation programs and classes at those places. For big cities like Toronto, you can easily find information online on free and lower-cost recreation programs and how to register for recreation programs.

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