The global pandemic continues to force unwanted change on almost every aspect of our daily lives.
One of the more controversial aspects of the various shutdowns, lockdowns and business closures was that of the extended closures of gyms and fitness clubs worldwide.
In the name of “flattening the curve” many gym members tried to do the right thing and change up their routines in order to include more at-home or socially distant outdoor workouts.
This has been sufficient for some, but left others without a place to truly continue their health and fitness endeavors , as there really is no replacement for the experience and atmosphere of the gym itself.
But as we’ve learned more about this virus and the various chronic diseases that make developing severe complications more likely, it has certainly come to light that access to physical activity and healthy lifestyles are essential.
As coronavirus cases are skyrocketing again, many cities wonder if gyms and health clubs should re-open or not.
The City of Philadelphia launched the new “Safer At Home” restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus infections, enacting stricter measures and demanding a city shutdown.
After the City Hall decided to close fitness clubs again on November 20, 2020, Philadelphia gym owners are begging city leaders to make fitness clubs essential businesses to allow them to reopen.
Now, as many other places face another potential lockdown, it begs the question- should gyms be considered essential businesses?
The Physical Benefits of (Re-)Open Gyms
The easiest point to make is the fact that health clubs and gyms help people get healthy. Physical activity has an almost unending number of benefits that go far beyond building muscle and supporting strong bones.
As we all know, exercise is able to both prevent as well as manage chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, among others, not to mention its role in combating obesity.
And while these benefits are nothing new, they are of increased significance now that we are realizing how those with chronic diseases are at a much higher risk when it comes to complications, hospitalization and even death from COVID-19.
The fact is there are millions of Americans - some 60% of American adults, according to the CDC - who struggle with these types of chronic diseases putting them at increased risk for the most serious complications from COVID-19.
These are precisely the people who have the most to gain when it comes to gyms and fitness clubs keeping their doors open.
Promoting a Healthier Lifestyle
While health complications stemming from chronic diseases have been an issue in the US for quite some time, it is now more important than ever that we place increased emphasis on good nutrition, physical activity, proper immune system function, and avoiding sedentary lifestyles.
It is increasingly clear that physical activity can improve the nation’s health as well as help mitigate the worst of COVID-19 symptoms and complications. So does that put fitness centers in the same category as supermarkets, pharmacies and others with essential service status?
While critics might say that people can stay physically active through at-home workouts or even simply outside, beyond the fact that many people have a lack of space for such endeavors or even the financial ability to purchase at-home fitness equipment, the point is that they’re not.
A recent survey done by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), ‘The COVID Era Fitness Consumer,’ revealed that while 53% of respondents took outdoor walks more often than pre-COVID shutdowns, only 29% purchased at-home fitness equipment.
Perhaps even more revealingly, 50% of these self-reported gym-goers are unsatisfied with their new DIY fitness routines, with 54% finding them less challenging and 53% have been less consistent with their workouts overall.
Gyms Are Not to Blame for Infections
While campaigning for the fitness clubs’ right to be included in the category of essential business, we would be remiss not to mention the fact that data shows gyms are not guilty of spreading COVID-19 .
In fact, several different US states have shown, thanks to contact tracing, that fitness clubs are not contributing to the transmission of COVID-19 .
The fact is that gyms and fitness centers vary widely in terms of how much ventilation they have as well as how much available space there is for social distancing.
When talking about closures and lockdowns, it is impossible to make the case that all fitness centers should be forced to shut down since their differences in size and make it unfair to say that on the whole, gyms are a dangerous source of potential infection.
Fitness clubs certainly feel that they are providing an essential service to the public, and as long as they are taking all necessary precautions, safety and sanitization protocols, and adhering to strict cleaning guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 should be allowed to remain open.
The fitness industry as a whole is focused on improving public health, not jeopardizing it.
Not Only Essential, But Crucial
In making the case for essential service status for gyms and fitness centers, we’ve covered how important they are for overall physical health - but we’ve yet to talk about the mental health side of things.
When it comes to mental and emotional health, there is abounding research that shows how significant exercise and physical activity is to managing depression, anxiety, and even cognitive decline.
And, just like with the physical benefits, these physical activity side effects are always important, but perhaps even more so in the era of COVID-19 when so many have been forced indoors and isolated from friends and family.
Pandemic-related stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness have been a major drain on mental health across the world.
The number of U.S. adults reporting their mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic has increased significantly from 32% in March to 53% in July 2020.
Being able to get to the local fitness club to not only stay active but continue routines that relieve stress and see friendly faces can have more of a positive impact that any of us realize.
Physical activity is more essential now than ever, and medical experts agree . COVID-19 has exposed how unhealthy our lifestyles have become and how chronic diseases due in large part of inactivity are to blame. Health clubs play an essential role in promoting physical, mental and emotional wellness.
With proper safety and sanitization protocols in place, we feel that fit clubs should be seen as part of the solution to this pandemic as well as for the health and wellbeing of future generations.