When COVID-19 forced fitness centers across the country to close along with most of the economy, Americans tapped into their resourcefulness to find ways to exercise.
However, a new survey from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) found that among Americans with fitness club memberships, many were not satisfied with their ad-hoc, at-home workouts because they were less challenging, less consistent, or simply worse than their regular gym-going routines. In fact, the same survey found that there was only one activity Americans missed more than going to their health club — seeing their loved ones.
Getting back into an exercise routine after any extended break is challenging, even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic adding anxiety. So it is reassuring to see large fitness center franchises take their role seriously in combating the transmission of COVID-19 in their facilities. In fact, of those returning to indoor exercise, nearly 9 in 10 felt confident that the safety and cleanliness measures put in place by their fitness center created a safe workout environment.
Many of these large facilities offer touchless entry, require masks for employees and members, enforce social distancing between cardio machines, supply members with towels and disinfectant spray, thoroughly sanitize equipment several times a day, and ensure that fresh air is constantly circulating throughout the facility — fully refreshing every hour.
As we learn more about COVID-19, it is becoming increasingly evident that access to physical fitness is essential to our physical and mental health. Over 30% of adults in Georgia are obese, have hypertension or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. The science is showing that the virus causes more severe symptoms and a greater threat of mortality for individuals with those comorbidic conditions. While regular exercise has long been encouraged by doctors to improve health and wellness, COVID-19 makes fitness more important than ever. In fact, as little as 20 minutes of exercise can boost the immune system, reducing risks of chronic diseases and protecting the body against viruses like COVID-19.
Americans’ mental well-being is also being impacted — more than half of adults in the U.S. say that worry over the pandemic negatively impacts their mental health. The IHRSA survey found that nearly 65% of those who returned to their fitness centers are doing so to improve their mental health. Americans are stressed, anxious and looking for coping methods to relieve the constant tension they’re feeling. Exercise provides the perfect outlet as it releases endorphins, which helps manage symptoms of stress and depression.
After serving in the military for 13 years and being a health care provider and educated, I truly believe it is imperative to advocate for physical as well as mental health. As such, it is important that fitness companies continue to be part of the public health solution here in Georgia by maintaining their commitment to creating a workout environment that mitigates the risk of COVD-19 transmission. This allows individuals the ability do their part in getting the physical activity they need to stay healthy — and should provide policymakers with the confidence to allow fitness centers to remain essential businesses and open to their members.
The writer is a Georgia pharmacist and fitness advocate.