The Debate: Should Gyms Be Allowed to Stay Open During Lockdown?
Jack Walton considers if gyms should have been kept open through the continued lockdowns seen in the United Kingdom.
Lockdown versions two and three are the even-more-miserable sequels to an already-deeply-miserable original. Taking all the worst elements of its predecessor, amplifying them, then chucking out the sunshine, clapping and novelty-factor – it’s no wonder the sense of national togetherness that prevailed through the salad days of viral terror is beginning to fracture.
Amidst rising skepticism, a band of self-styled renegades – the Anti Lockdown Resistance Front – who believe the current measures in place to be excessively draconian, have begun to test the law. Gradually, compliance has been slipping.
Of all the battlefields of contention to have emerged (some ridiculous – the 400 person wedding in London or the wine wholesaler, Majestic Wines, protesting to be an essential business) perhaps the most worthy of debate is the case of gyms. When the BBC reported last week of a Gym owner in Preston, Steve Todd, refusing to shut down despite 11 separate warnings, his response was simple – he had no choice, that his customers were “desperate to train for their mental health”.
This isn’t an isolated story. A number of articles have sprung up over the last 12 months featuring a defiant gym owner, photographed with his bulging arms crossed over his chest, staring down a £10,000 plus fine with the firm belief that what he is doing is right and good.
Perhaps it’s the strange alchemy of testosterone, entrapment and smelling salts, but if nothing else the resilience on display is impressive. “This isn’t about the money” Mr Todd told the BBC, “because I’m not charging”. Displaced or otherwise the drive here is one of duty, these people are waging a Holy War – putting their business and livelihoods on the line.
The link between mental health and exercise shouldn’t be understated. Working out releases endorphins proven to help the body combat stress, improves sleep quality and provides for many people a sense of community essential to their social life. The argument made by those who are anti-closure is that these social, physical and psychological factors render gyms ‘essential’, with the benefits outweighing any potential harm done.
In the original lockdown, the closure of gyms and sports facilities was at least offset against better weather – which resulted in many people capitalising on the permitted daily hour of exercise. Back in May, Sport England reported a “surge in the appreciation of exercise” undertaken outdoors. But a leisurely promenade jog at sundown during the calendar’s warmer seasons is a far cry from stepping out into the bestial conditions of British winter. With people feeling even more trapped indoors than before, the refuge space of gyms to be able to keep fit seems vital.
Unfortunately, given that gymnasiums and fitness centres tend to be humid, sweaty contained spaces, they carry a large risk of viral transmission. Nottingham University virologist Jonathan Ball told BBC Newsbeat that because people “tend to exercise quite vigorously”, making them “breathe rapidly and deeply” it can be expected that “droplets or aerosols” would be produced “that could go on to infect other people”. Whilst the fitness industry did work hard in the intermediary period between the two lockdowns to implement methods to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, the extremely high case rates over Christmas make the government decision understandable.
Whilst various fitness instructors, most notably Joe Wicks, have explored virtual avenues to encourage makeshift home exercise sessions, the issue is becoming increasingly urgent. Gym enthusiasts have fought their way to the front lines of the anti-lockdown fight, and seem to have no interest in surrender. Whatever your stance on their actions, the situation is highly frustrating and highlights perhaps the most painful side-effect of the pandemic; that the valiant effort to suppress viral transmission has often left mental and physical health hanging in the balance.