AS I SEE IT - The Absence of Exercise: Were the Government Right to Close Gyms? By Maisie Holcombe

Whether you spend all your time at the gym or simply enjoy the odd Zumba class every now and then, you will likely have been affected by the closure of gyms as a result of the second national lockdown. The prospect of home workouts and coming face-to-face with Joe Wicks ‘The Body Coach’ again could make you feel uneasy or you may be excited about a long rest. Either way you have probably been unable to escape the numerous petitions on social media trying to combat the government’s restrictions towards gyms and physical activity. Could closing gyms result in more harm than good?

Prior to lockdown 2.0, the emergence of booking systems and other new rules helped to alleviate overcrowding in gyms, which made it easier to social distance. Inevitably, not everyone wiped down equipment and would flout the gym’s efforts to combat the transmission of coronavirus. But did this truly account for rising cases? Data has shown 2.8% of transmissions occur in gyms compared to 6.8% in secondary schools. If schools need to be open to prevent the disruption of ‘normal’ life for young people and to avoid negatively impacting their mental health, surely gyms are essential too?

However, viewing gyms as essential could open up a whole new can of worms; with every sector coming forward with a reason for how they are also essential in order to reopen business. Pubs and restaurants could argue how they are essential, acting as a break away from being stuck in indoors all day and allowing a sense of ‘normality’ despite all the chaos. Likewise, the arts would continue to argue how they have the ability to operate within covid-safe guidelines and create excitement amongst the doom and gloom. In that case, is it not more beneficial to live without the gym for a month or two to avoid this debate?

With more and more people having to sit at home on their laptops all day with the increase of online learning and working from home, it can be easy to become all-consumed by your work and lose perspective. As someone who regularly goes to the gym, other daily exercises such as walking, running and home workouts just do not offer me the same form of stress relief as the gym. Whilst hybrid learning allows students at Surrey a chance to have some face-to-face teaching, working from home can pose issues in creating a consistent routine. The gym can be a big motivator, adding some sort of structure to my day and releasing endorphins to help me feel more positive about my studies. Particularly in lockdown, all the days seem to merge into one which I have found to significantly lower morale, made worse without access to gyms.

"The NHS can be protected by gyms remaining open, both in terms of helping to prevent the deterioration of mental health and reducing obesity."

Coping psychologically with the lockdown is just as important as maintaining physical health. Working hard in the gym, even just for an hour or two, is shown to have extensive mental health benefits such as managing stress and reducing the risk of depression, outlined by the charity Mind. It may also be the only chance for some people to experience a different environment due to the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic. The reality is that we could be faced with a mental health epidemic after lockdown, worsened since the mental health sector in the UK is already underfunded and forced to stretch itself thinly in order to balance the rise in mental illnesses. The government has recently pledged millions to support mental health services during the coronavirus, as the devastating psychological impact of coronavirus and the pandemic becomes increasingly clearer.

Not only are there mental health benefits, but it of course also improves physical health. I know I am not alone in finding it hard to resist the urge to raid all my snacks and chocolate after being stuck inside for hours upon end. It is no surprise that Britain’s obesity crisis was worsened by the first lockdown in March which will surely repeat itself after the second lockdown, particularly with Christmas approaching. Obesity has been shown to increase the likelihood of someone experiencing severe symptoms of coronavirus in comparison to a fit and healthy individual, a fact the PM outwardly admitted after he himself contracted coronavirus. With this being the case, it should be of paramount importance that the population undertakes healthier lifestyle choices; the closure of gyms evidently seems like a step backwards from this with obesity seeming like another health pandemic of its own.

It is also ironic that the government unveiled a new obesity strategy in July, only a month before the infamous ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. The NHS can be protected by gyms remaining open, both in terms of helping to prevent the deterioration of mental health and reducing obesity. However, this scheme seemed to halt that. No matter your political standing, it is clear that the government seems to contradict themselves, with the closure of gyms having a negative impact on their efforts to tackle obesity, adding to the already high anxiety in the current pandemic.

An added health benefit from exercising and using the gym is that it boosts the immune system; we are all familiar with and experienced the common cold lurking in winter, though alongside this is the flu. Regular exercise would help fewer people from suffering from illnesses such as these which could lower the immune system and make us more susceptible to contracting coronavirus.

The onset of winter brings with it bad weather and shorter daylight hours; someone busy working in the day is only left with the option of doing their exercise at night or early in the morning when it is dark. Although the gym, like anywhere, cannot be 100% safe, the bustling atmosphere can stop you feeling as vulnerable as when you are alone at night, particularly as a young woman. Some tips for staying safe whilst exercising at night include: avoiding loud music in your headphones, going with a friend (whilst sticking to current social distancing guidelines) and staying in well-lit areas you are familiar with.

Gyms may have once been put under the heading of leisure, although now more than ever it is clear they are important to our overall health and wellbeing. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise in gyms outweigh the relatively low risk of transmission of COVID-19, therefore deeming them to be essential for any future lockdowns.


Created with an image by Arcaion - "sport exercise gym"