LETHBRIDGE -- A new fitness and physical training therapy facility in Lethbridge is focused on bridging the gap between mental and physical health.

It's been a difficult year for Albertans, with many people having lost jobs, loved ones and connections to family and friends.

All of this plays into mental health and trauma and staff at The Bridge Sports Therapy & Training Centre are focused on helping clients feel their best.

The 7,500-sq.-ft. facility offers everything from injury prevention to massage therapy and performance training. They also have a registered psychologist on staff.

"Exercise is the most powerful thing we can do right now" said physiotherapist Niko Saler.

Experts say the latest round of pandemic closures and restrictions in Alberta is continuing to put people's mental health at risk.

A new report by the Canadian Mental Health Association National Team and the University of British Columbia found that since the onset of the pandemic, 41 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated.

For some, speaking to a psychologist can help, for others — especially athletes unable to participate in sports — exercise is the key to preventing depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

"Lots of them have lost their identity and don't know what to do with themselves" said Morgan Branch, part-owner of The Bridge.

"They're getting that anxiety and depression and then as soon as we can get them in there and start exercising to some capacity it's really neat to see everyone perk up and have that glimmer of hope again."

Saler said he's seen the impact exercise can have on a person, first-hand. He works with athletes who are returning from injury, have taken time off or who want to improve their performance.

The Bridge has a large turf area for conditioning and agility training, private treatment rooms, a full gym and recovery zone.

"For us the evidence around exercise and physio tells us that exercise and education are the two most powerful things we can do," said Saler.

"And we really wanted to bring a space and an environment where people could do that, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

Staff at The Bridge admit exercise is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to eliminating stress, especially during the pandemic. Other suggestions include reaching out to a friend or family member to talk, meditating, getting outside into nature and finding something that makes you laugh.

While some of their services are temporarily shut down, because of ongoing health restrictions, staff say they're happy to be helping clients who need their services now more than ever. 

Saler says they want to create a place where people can come and exercise in a safe space.

"For us, it's all about a brand, a community and people feeling comfortable and safe in this facility and I think that's been the biggest challenge in COVID but also really good," he said.