Community health, collaborations at heart of Brock Functional Inclusive Training Centre

The popular Brock Functional Inclusive Training (Bfit) Centre, which offers exercise programs aimed at improving the health and quality of life of older adults and those experiencing a wide range of health situations, officially opened its new, state-of-the-art facility Wednesday.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held for the Centre, previously known as the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being, was attended by industry and community partners, Brock employees and student volunteers, Bfit Centre members and representatives from all levels of government.

Bfit moved from its previous location on Lockhart Drive to the new space at the Walker Sports and Abilities Centre at Canada Games Park one year ago this month. Bfit’s state-of-the-art, 13,000-square-foot facility includes modern equipment and space for the Centre’s supervised community exercise programs that benefit older adults, cancer patients and survivors, cardiac patients and individuals living with multiple sclerosis, amputations, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury.

Brock President and Vice-Chancellor Lesley Rigg, who was one of several speakers at the event, emphasized the University’s long-standing connection and service to the Niagara community.

Two older adults converse with a staff person in a bright and spacious exercise facility.

Clarence and Ruth Braun, members of the Brock Functional Inclusive Training (Bfit) Centre, speak with Bfit staff member and Brock University PhD candidate Taranjot Kaur Dhillon (right) at the facility’s grand opening on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

“Since the institution’s founding 60 years ago, Brock University has been wholly committed to serving its community,” she said. “We aren’t just in this community, we are of this community, and the official opening of this world-class centre is evidence of that.”

With nearly 800 active members, Bfit offers a welcoming, accessible and safe space for seniors and people experiencing a variety of health situations to practise physical activity among their peers and with guidance from professional kinesiologists and students studying Kinesiology, Medical Sciences, Recreational Therapy and Gerontology.

“A lot of our members enjoy coming to the facility because they feel like they’re part of a community,” said Deborah O’Leary, Bfit Centre Director and Acting Associate Vice-President, Research, Brock University. “They make friends with people who have experienced similar life situations, such as a heart attack, cancer or losing a partner, and are inspired by members who make the time to prioritize their fitness and health.”

O’Leary said members enjoy interacting and bonding with Brock students who volunteer with Bfit’s programs through their course curriculum, practicum placements and co-curricular programs such as Med Plus and Fit Link.

“The intergenerational aspect of Bfit’s programs benefits both our members and students,” she said. “Members receive support through individualized activity plans and supervision that ensures they are using the equipment and performing exercises correctly, while students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with seniors and people living with injury or disease, which prepares them for future careers in health care.”

Jim Davis found Bfit more than a decade ago when he was looking for a gym that could provide the assistance he needed as a person with cerebral palsy.

“Having the students here has been excellent,” he said. “My wife and I come here five days a week and stay here for three hours a day and we get all the help we could possibly need.”

Carol Reid has been a Bfit member for 15 years.

“It’s good for me to get me up and out of the house and moving,” she said. “There are a lot of great people. It’s a very caring community.”

In addition to helping people in Niagara live healthy and active lives and providing students with meaningful experiential learning opportunities, Bfit also contributes to multi-disciplinary research that is advancing the understanding of human health and aging.

During his undergraduate studies, Matthieu Dagenais (BSc ’16) worked closely with Bfit members to help build their confidence and maintain independence while improving their cardiovascular and muscular fitness, balance and stability. Now as a Bfit staff member and Brock PhD candidate in Applied Health Sciences — Population and Behavioural Health, Dagenais is conducting research under the supervision of Kinesiology Professor Kimberley Gammage that investigates positive body image and physical activity across the lifespan.

“Through research at Bfit, members contribute to the training of students and inform studies that help develop new and modify existing programming that aims to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for older adults, including the Bfit members themselves,” he said. “Our lab’s research has led to the enhancement of online fitness programs that promote exercise, social interaction, quality instruction and well-being in diverse populations.”

The positive impact Bfit is making in the local community can also be attributed to its ongoing partnerships with community organizations and the financial support it receives from industry and government.

The Centre’s SeniorFit program is supported by TD Bank Group through the Ready Commitment, and its online exercise programming received a $25,000 boost this past June from the Government of Ontario via the Seniors Community Grant. Bfit also recently received a $30,000 donation from the Rankin Cancer Run to support Active Beyond Cancer, a new group exercise program for people living with cancer.

“Brock University is showing leadership when it comes to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to participate in this province,” said Daisy Wai, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister for Seniors and Accessibilities. “Bfit and Brock University’s SeniorFit classes are so important for seniors. The classes and Centre will help more seniors be able to stay fit, healthy and socially connected.”

Bfit’s new space is also possible thanks to the federal, provincial and municipal representatives who championed capital investments for the Canada Summer Games, and the University’s continuing partnerships with the Niagara Region, the City of St. Catharines and the City of Thorold.

For more information on Bfit’s programs and initiatives, visit the Centre’s website at

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