Nova Scotia

YMCA aims to improve physical, mental health of Nova Scotians with chronic conditions

The Active for Life program is meant to give people the tips and confidence needed to get started with exercise.

Active For Life program bridges gap between physical rehab and becoming active in the community

Anna Freid, left, and Eunice Abaga, right, participate in the Active for Life pilot program at the John W. Lindsay YMCA in Halifax. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

The YMCA is offering individually tailored exercise programs to help Nova Scotians who are dealing with chronic conditions get moving.

The Active for Life program, which will eventually be offered in five Nova Scotia communities, is meant to give people who've completed physical rehabilitation programs — but are not ready to exercise on their own — the tips and confidence needed to get started.

"Bridging the gap is having avenues for people who graduate from ... a cardiac rehab program or from a knee and hip program in order for them to get active in their communities," said Jonathon Fowles, a kinesiology professor at Acadia University who helped developed the program.

Clinical exercise physiologists (CEPs) create safe exercise programs tailored to the needs of the participant to get them to feel comfortable being active.

Jonathon Fowles has been working to develop the Active For Life project in collaboration with Nova Scotia Health and various chronic disease programs for over a decade. (Submitted by Jonathon Fowles)

"The CEP kind of acts like a pharmacist," said Fowles, who is also the director the Centre for Lifestyle Studies at Acadia.

The Active for Life program will be available on a permanent basis starting in September at YMCA locations in Halifax, Bridgewater, Amherst and Pictou. Pilot programs are already underway in Halifax and Bridgewater.

The program will be introduced in Cape Breton later in the season.

Fowles said the goal of the program is that participants improve balance and strength by 20 to 25 per cent, while improving aerobic fitness and mental health by 15 to 20 per cent. 

Tom Christensen says many of the participants who were hesitant at first are now enjoying the exercises and benefiting physically by being active. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Tom Christensen is the CEP running the pilot program in Halifax. He completes initial assessments of the participants before they start and monitors their progress.

"The coolest thing is to see people realize they can do stuff that they thought they couldn't," Christensen said.

Eunice Abaga loves exercising, but suffers from intense musculoskeletal pain in her knees and shoulders that makes it difficult to walk. She spent eight weeks at Nova Scotia Rehabilitation and Arthritis Centre, but knew she couldn't receive the one-on-one treatment forever.

She was afraid to start exercising unsupervised, so her physiotherapist referred her to the YMCA, where she soon enrolled in Active for Life.

Abaga says the program has benefited both her physical and mental health. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

She said balance and strength exercises have helped improve her physical health.

"I had so much trouble even bending my knee when I first came here, but the exercises I do in this room are helping me get more flexibility in my knees and take away pain in my shoulders," Abaga said.

"I love this program to the moon and back. I wish I knew about a program like this many, many years ago."

Participants can self-refer to the Active for Life program or be referred by a health-care practitioner. The YMCA said subsidies and a two-week free trial are available for participants.


Will McLernon is an online journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. If you have a tip or a story idea, send him an email at


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