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Is it safe to go back to the gym?

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 08, 2021 5:00 am

Thousands of fitness industry workers have lost their jobs. Gym members had to indefinitely pause the workout regimen that provided them not only a fit body, but also a healthy mental state.

Yes, there is a pandemic and the government is just looking after the safety of people. But gyms have been closed for too long with the allegation that gyms are considered recreational instead of an essential part of daily life.

Lately, there have been reports that gyms need to remain closed because they’re hotspots or contribute to the faster spread of the virus. As an unprotected and unsupported industry, we gym operators have to stand up together and be heard. We also have a right to earn our livelihood and serve the members who trust us as their wellness partners. 

Why is the fitness industry always left out? Is there a real threat for a super spread of the COVID-19 virus in the gym? Is the gym really unsafe compared to all other personal service businesses that have been allowed to open?

The gym is a reasonably safe place for members as long as it strictly adheres to the safety protocols and guidelines that help to mitigate any risks of spreading COVID-19. With these protocols in place, fitness facilities are safe for members, the community and staff alike.

The 15-month quarantine undoubtedly brought unprecedented setbacks to the fitness industry. It also brought together its prime movers in the country.

The Philippine Fitness Alliance was born during the quarantine and has met regularly online to jointly navigate this pandemic. Representing the largest fitness chains in the country such as Anytime Fitness, Celebrity Fitness, Fitness First, Gold’s Gym, Slimmer’s World and UFC Gym, the alliance works with government units to recommend safety protocols as well as help in policing its ranks.

Members and trainers always follow stringent health and safety protocols during training sessions.

Incidentally, the gyms under the alliance had over 600,000 check-ins in the months we were allowed to open and we have zero club transmissions of the virus.

My writings from 1997 onwards offer a very long discourse on why fitness is essential for me. This time, I asked my colleagues in the fitness industry to share their insights on why fitness is essential.

Ryan Cheal, COO of Anytime Fitness Asia

Fitness is essential because it promotes a fulfilling routine, which improves your overall well-being. Getting enough exercise contributes to short-term and long-term improvements on your mood, sleep, mental and physical health. Exercise strengthens the heart, the muscles, improves flexibility and, thus, protects you from potential illnesses and diseases. Fitness also helps boost your immune system.

Mark Ellis, country manager of Evolution Wellness (Fitness First/Celebrity Fitness)

It is widely reported how exercise is a critical component to one’s overall well-being, physical health, mental health and general immune response, especially at a time like this. As vaccination campaigns across the country start, fitness also plays a big part in boosting the effectiveness of the shot.

A recent study by Glasgow Caledonian University has found that a person who is active is 50 percent more likely to have higher antibodies after a vaccine, in comparison to someone who is inactive.

Being physically active strengthens the immune system, reduces the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious disease by more than a third. We firmly believe that our industry is part of the solution and it is important that we do our best to support the health and immunity of our people through regular exercise and movement.”

Equipment and surfaces are thoroughly sanitized throughout the day.

Desiree Moy, president of Slimmers World

Along with proper nutrition and rest, fitness has been key to ensuring the overall wellness of our mind and body. We can talk about the science of fitness, but it will be a long discussion. Essentially, regular physical fitness helps strengthen our immune system, which is what we basically need to battle this health crisis. The benefits of exercise can be manifested in the individual’s mental and physical state.

How safe are you in the gym? Is the gym a venue for ‘super spreaders’?

Says Ryan Cheal, “The gym is a reasonably safe place for members as long as it strictly adheres to the safety protocols and guidelines that help to mitigate any risks of spreading COVID-19. With risk mitigation and cleaning protocols in place, fitness facilities are safe for members, the community and staff alike. In fact, a recent study published from New South Wales, Australia stated that out of 7.31 million check-ins across 546 gyms, there have been zero reported cases. Overall, health and fitness clubs are not hotspots or uniquely contributing to the spread of coronavirus.” 

Mark Ellis adds: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve introduced a set of protocols, which are already among the strictest compared to other industries, to mitigate the risks of contracting the virus in our clubs. With the right protocols in place, and when these are adhered to closely by all members and staff, exercising in a gym is as safe as it can be.

“From the time our clubs reopened, there have been over 211,000 check-ins. From this number, there have only been 13 COVID-19 positive cases, which translates to about one reported case per 16,200 member check-ins. There is also no evidence to date of any transmissions within our gym environment, whether to other members or staff, and we attribute this to everyone’s cooperation in adhering to the health and safety guidelines.”