Is it Time to Return to the Gym?

It’s been over a year now since the WHO declared a global pandemic due to the outbreak of Sars-Cov-2. While initially facing a disease which we knew very little about was a terrifying prospect, some of the world’s brightest minds have been hard at work to do everything they can to combat the spread of COVID-19, our initial response was simple: Stay home.  As a result many businesses both here in America and across the world suffered.

If you sell t-shirts online, you can still do business while your customers stay home. If you own a service based business like a restaurant or a gym, it can be difficult to do business without seeing your customers face to face. Of course many restaurants pivoted to delivery, and many fitness professionals moved their coaching online, but business owners and patrons in both the food and fitness will tell you: it’s just not the same as the real thing.

As a small business owner, I can tell you the last year has not been easy. When the governor first shut down gyms in New Hampshire, most of our clients were extremely supportive, but as the pandemic pushed on, patience began to wear thin. When many people’s financial futures became in doubt, people began to trim their budget down to the bare essentials. That saw industries like fitness take a big hit.

“I hope you guys make it, but please cancel my membership!” was an e-mail I received on a nearly weekly basis. And I get it. The COVID-19 Pandemic has been scary as hell. We’ve all heard the horror stories of seemingly young and healthy loved ones having serious complications or worse, from the disease.

I’ve seen first hand people being bullied for trying to maintain some semblance of normality in their work or personal pursuits. Gym owners themselves were not immune to this as we had input from members and non-members alike about how we should be running our business.

“People should be wearing masks all the time, even when they’re actively exercising!”

“If you make me wear a mask, cancel my membership!”

“I can’t believe you closed down. The governor doesn’t have the right to tell you not to do business!”

“I can’t believe you opened back up. Just because the governor said to open the economy doesn’t make it safe! Cancel my membership!”

The truth is, in the beginning, no one really had the right answer, not even the scientists and other experts, so that means the rest of us didn’t have the answers either. The only difference between me and you, is I had additional questions to grapple with. Not only is the gym the livelihood for myself and my staff, it’s also an extremely positive place for our community members.

For many it’s the only place they’ve ever felt comfortable to exercise. The only place where they truly do not feel judged or unwelcome. A place for stress relief, safety and sanity. If I failed that community, I would be crushed with guilt.

The debate of whether or not skipping the gym was good idea is moot. It’s in the past, and at the time we had very little information to work from, but fortunately that is no longer the case. Before we talk about relative risk of both contracting COVID and the risk of serious complications from the disease, let’s look at what the data says about exercise and your immune system. We all know that exercise is good for us, but we may have underestimated just how good it was for us. While severe cases of COVID were highly linked to comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, and low vitamin D, science has shown us that even acute bouts of exercise have an immediate effect. This actually shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even though COVID-19 is a new virus, our bodies are exceptionally good at adapting, and we know that humans need movement. If we sit for too long, just like an old car, is when we begin to deteriorate. It is believed that even a single exercise session can boost immunity to a myriad of diseases, including COVID-19.

So we eventually reopened, with additional safety measures in place of course. Limited capacity, hand sanitizer every which way you turned, everyone doing their best to keep their distance, and wear a face covering when not actively exercising.

But of course these are germs we are talking about. Tiny, silent, and ubiquitous. Surely a place where people are spending hours of time, sweating, breathing heavily, and touching…well just about everything, surely these safety measures were not enough to eliminate the risk, right?

As of today we’ve had over 7,000 check-ins since the start of the pandemic, and we’ve had exactly 0 cases of COVID stem from our community. I attribute this to five things:

  • Our members did an excellent job of being smart.
    • If they didn’t feel well, they stayed home and got tested.
    • If they travelled they quarantined and got tested
    • If they used a piece of equipment, they wiped it down thoroughly after use.
  • We have the benefit of an extremely large garage door that we used to circulate fresh air. Yes even in the winter time (usually when clients weren’t there).
  • Our staff did a fantastic job of keeping our facility clean
  • Exercise. Combats. Communicable. Disease.
  • A little bit of luck.

To the last point, being alive is dangerous business. Ultimately we can never control all the variables in life. Think of the cliché story you sometimes hear of a young athlete suddenly dropping dead of a heart attack, or the life long health nut developing lung cancer.

And meanwhile the effects of staying safe from COVID have their own deleterious effects. Obesity is up. Depression and mental health disorders are up. Divorce is up. Suicide is up. We are social creatures. We are not made to be caged and dormant. Our bodies were meant to move, our minds were meant to communicate. At some point you have to look at the data and weigh the benefits with the risks, and exercise can be the panacea for many of the negative impacts quarantining and social distancing have had on our lives.

At the time of this writing, roughly 1/3 of America’s population has immunity to COVID-19 either by way of vaccination or having contracted the disease. According to this tool created by Georgia Tech, your risk of contracting COVID in our facility is sub 10%. While we can’t speak for other gyms in Concord, who may have a larger number of members in their facility, I’d say less than 10% is an overly cautious estimation, as we had less than 3% of our community contract COVID (all cases occurring outside of the gym) in the last year. And with roughly 50% of our entire community now being partially or fully vaccinated, the odds are heavily in your favor.

Our community survived the absolute height of the pandemic, and now as immunity rapidly increases, and the side effects of social distancing start to strongly impact us, we must ask the question: Is it time to come back to the gym?

I may be a bit biased, but the data says: yes.

To get a better understanding of your COVID risks, you can use this tool and this tool.

AUTHOR

Dr. Brett Scott

Arkitect Fitness

"We help athletes and active adults
lose weight, get fit, and optimize performance."
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