Why gyms shouldn't close if there's a second lockdown

With people being urged to lose weight and research showing gyms are almost risk-free environments, here's why they shouldn't close again

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As coronavirus cases increase and government cast around for ways to be seen to be doing something, the glare which has turned to the pubs and restaurants will inevitably at some point fall on the gyms, despite the fact that you would be hard pressed to think of places better suited to social distancing, and track and trace, than most fitness studios.

Say “gym” and most people immediately imagine people randomly wandering around a treadmill, groups gathering at the water fountain or sharing the equipment. But the rise in boutique studios means this is just not the case: at Barry’s Bootcamp, and class-based establishments like ours, we’re able to manage the numbers through the door, check temperatures on entry, and then socially distance once inside. The spot you use is assigned, and you don’t share it with anyone.  

Not only do our studios have incredibly advanced ventilation systems, vastly in excess of government requirements, they are also deep cleaned every 50 minutes between each and every class. Weights, benches, treadmills, the floor, the mats, the mirrors - everything is washed down with antibacterial spray shot out of something that looks like the proton pack from Ghostbusters. And while you’re working out, all the common areas are being given the same treatment.

Research from industry body ukactive has shown that since gyms were given the green light to reopen, we are almost risk-free environments for COVID-19, with an estimated 0.020 positive cases per 10,000 gym visits. In fact, we feel so confident in the measures we have in place, we have just opened our seventh London studio in Soho.

Like other boutique studio operators, I was astounded by the total lack of understanding demonstrated by the government this summer when they reopened pubs and restaurants on July 4, but kept us closed - at the exact same time they were imploring the nation to get fit to fight the virus.

But that has been indicative of the continuing disconnect between government messaging on health and wellbeing and their approach so far to the leisure industry. 

We’ve seen hospitality benefit from the Eat Out to Help Out campaign and VAT relief, but no such support for our sector. 

When the government did launch their ‘Better Health’ campaign to help people lose weight, get active and eat better, it was based around banning unhealthy food adverts and calorie labelling, not encouraging people back into gyms. 

The outdated thinking at government level is also demonstrated by their language, which always focuses on losing weight. Clients at Barry’s often come for one reason, and yes, that might be more toned arms or a six-pack. But nine times out of ten they stay for something else completely, and that’s a mental, not physical thing. 

It’s one hour of the day for themselves, where they are able to achieve something that makes them feel better almost immediately, thanks to the happy chemicals of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that you experience from exercising.

With the pandemic clearly taking a huge toll on people’s mental wellbeing, and suicide rates at their highest in two decades, we should be encouraging our communities to exercise not just to lose weight, but also to improve their mental health. 

Our Prime Minister, however, just jokes that if you exercise before breakfast, at least you know nothing for the rest of the day could be worse. Thanks for nothing, Boris.

Instead of coming up with popular strategies to “save Christmas” surely this government should be thinking longer term. Gyms and fitness studios are not just committed to keeping the nation fit and healthy - both physically and mentally. They are also some of the safest and cleanest places in the country, full of people for whom health is a priority. They must be kept open.

Should gyms close if there is a second lockdown? Let us know in the comments section below.