It's time to reopen our gyms in fight against Covid

Gyms are a great way to fight against Covid-19 rather than contribute to it, says Cathal O’Shea, owner of SOLAS Health and Fitness in Carrigaline, who is calling for their reopening
It's time to reopen our gyms in fight against Covid

Cathal O'Shea, Owner of Solas Health and Fitness, Carrigaline, County Cork.

THE reason I wrote this piece is to try to give a voice to small independent gym owners like myself and highlight a few key messages.

My name is Cathal O’Shea and I am the owner of SOLAS Health & Fitness in Carrigaline, and during this latest lockdown period one thing that has worried me greatly is that any mention of gyms reopening has all but disappeared from mainstream media.

As independent gym owners, we don’t have strong lobbies like the teachers and vintners association, and for smaller private facilities like my own we are often left with no voice at all.

Personally, I would view gyms, particularly smaller set-ups, as a great way to fight against the effects of Covid-19 rather than contribute to it. 

I know the government can’t go through each individual case but I do feel like all gyms are being painted with the same brush so to speak.

I, and most small private facilities like mine, would run very small group-structured, controlled classes. We know exactly who is going to be there, we plan out exactly what people will be doing, for how long and where they will be doing it with almost military precision.

Most of the gyms are in large warehouse style facilities with huge roller doors and high ceiling to maximise air circulation and social distancing protocols. Added to this, the fact that gyms are sprayed and cleaned more regularly than most surgical studios, should make it one of the safest environments to be in during a pandemic.

Cathal O'Shea, owner of Solas Health and Fitness, Carrigaline
Cathal O'Shea, owner of Solas Health and Fitness, Carrigaline

The level 5 lockdown feels like an extremely blunt instrument to deal with the current situation in this manner.

Gyms play a huge role in many people’s lives; the benefits to mental health are huge and well publicised, I should know my wife is a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) practitioner and lecturer. She likes to remind me that exercise is not solely about increasing endorphins, it also provides the pathway for the circulation of serotonin from the gut (where the majority of it is produced) to the brain inevitably causing better mood.

As well as this the past year has made people acutely aware of just how important social interaction is for people’s metal health and the gym provides a fantastic outlet for this, particularly smaller set-ups where everybody knows your name, you see familiar encouraging faces every week and you aren’t just a membership number.

A number of my physiotherapy colleagues have seen countless patience over the last few months who are really struggling to self-manage their pain due to lack of access to quality gyms, equipment, coaches and trainers.

These are all very important things to highlight and some have been more than others. One thing I have heard almost zero mention of however is the link between obesity and Covid-19 outcomes.

These are some statistics taken directly from the CDC website about the U.S and the link between Covid-19 and Obesity:

  • Obesity worsens outcomes from Covid-19
  • Adults with excess weight are at even greater risk during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
  • People who are overweight may also be at increased risk.
  • Having obesity may TRIPLE the risk of hospitalisation due to a Covid-19 infection.
  • Obesity is linked to impaired immune function.
  • Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult.
  • A study of Covid-19 cases suggests that risks of hospitalisation, intensive care unit admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, and death are higher with increasing BMI.
  • The increased risk for hospitalisation or death was particularly pronounced in those under age 65.

More than 900,000 adult Covid-19 hospitalisations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalisations were attributed to obesity.

Now the argument, of course, will be, can you not just go for a walk/run/cycle instead? This very well may work for some people, but if this was the case then there would be no need for gyms, coaches, nutritionists, etc, at all.

I think we can play a significant role in combating the effects and the severity of Covid-19, if we are given the chance. I would like to ensure that gyms like mine stay in the narrative and don’t get left behind.

In a world where fast food outlets are deemed “essential services”, I would like to promote the idea that gyms can be thought of as a solution rather than a problem.

SOLAS means ‘light’ in Irish and I sincerely hope that we see some light at the end of this long, long tunnel.

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