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Open the gyms or sweat it out at home?

By Rothery Sullivan

Is it time to open up the gyms again? Our writer Rothery doesn’t think so, and here’s why.

Exercise can have an incredible impact on our mental health and wellbeing, making gyms an important service for many people. Given that the gyms are currently closed in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19, a lot of people are struggling. Understandably, this has encouraged a lot of online debate, petitions, and general frustration around what counts as an essential business: the gym could, arguably, be viewed as a health service (both mentally and physically), and health services during a global pandemic should be considered “essential”. However, as the numbers continue to rise at a preposterous rate, we can’t help but question which is more important: our mental health or protection from the virus. Considering that we are amidst a temporary global pandemic that is mostly affecting older adults (and not younger adults who typically attend the gym), we need to be selfless and keep the gyms closed, because even if it means a deterioration in mental wellbeing, it will save lives.

Of course, there are many good arguments for keeping the gyms open: it gives people a purpose to get out of bed in the morning, establishes a routine (especially in a time where a consistent routine is very hard to come by), and can help to maintain your overall mental and physical health. It would be ill-advised to undermine the importance of gyms or to ignore just how many people benefit from them. However, as stated before, we cannot ignore the fact that we are in a pandemic: whilst mental health has worsened since the pandemic began, gyms are not the only solution to improving your mental health. 

There are many other ways to be active, release endorphins, and establish a meaningful routine that will not put other people’s lives at stake. As someone who uses exercise as a stress-reliever, I have had to find gym-workout replacements, such as outside running instead of cycling classes and bodyweight/dumbbell workouts instead of weight-lifting in the gym. I’ve also found that I am saving money from not paying a gym membership fee, and can attest that putting this money towards workout equipment such as resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells or a bench is a worthwhile investment. While these replacements are not ideal, I am happy to make this small sacrifice to potentially save the lives of others.

Another popular argument for keeping the gyms open is that very little transmission occurs in gyms, especially when new safety measures are implemented, such as better air circulation, social distancing requirements, improved sanitation, and time limits. While statistics on this subject are a little inconsistent and unreliable (as the spread of Covid-19 cases in gyms has not been studied thoroughly enough), it appears that the likelihood of getting the virus from a gym is extremely low: the US-based IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) collected data from over 2,800 facilities and found that out of the 49.4m check-ins, there were only 1,155 cases reported, which yields a 0.0023% infection rate. While this statistic is not foolproof (as some cases may not have been reported), it does show that gyms are not an especially high-risk place to be. Indeed, gyms are much lower risk than other establishments like bars or restaurants. 

However, even if gyms are low-risk, we are still amidst a pandemic, and thousands of people are dying daily: low-risk doesn’t mean no risk. While the end of the pandemic seems to be within sight, it is not over yet, which is why we need to stay strong for a couple more months and wait until the vaccine is more widespread. 

To be completely candid about it, when I see people aggressively pushing for the gyms to stay open, I can’t help but wonder: “Where is your sense of community?” We are living in a time where everyone is suffering; everyone has experienced loss, everyone’s mental health has deteriorated, and everyone is scared. Surely now is the time to be selfless? At the end of the day, we should be willing to make the sacrifice of missing the gym to save lives. 

When a person dies from the virus, it not only harms them but it causes ever-lasting grief for their loved ones, in a time where mourning is more difficult than ever. If you are pushing for the gyms to be opened alongside essential businesses, I urge you to ask yourself if you think attending the gym is more important than your grandparent’s life, or your professor’s life, or your friend’s parent’s life? The value of a human life is not equivalent to the possible improvement in mental and physical health that gyms can provide, especially considering that the gym closures are temporary and that there are many other ways to exercise. 

Gyms are not an “essential” business. Food is essential. Toiletries are essential. Shelter is essential. And yes, exercise is essential to sustain life; however, gyms are not essential to exercise. I think that when it comes down to it, people should be willing to sacrifice a loss of endurance and muscle mass to save the lives of others. I know that this may be a difficult task for regular gym-goers, but if it means saving even a few lives, you should take pride in knowing that you did everything you could to help slow the spread of the virus.


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