Keep Gyms Open
How Will Gyms Potentially Shutting Down Affect Mental Health? - Guest Blog By Mark Whitfield.
The COVID-19 Situation in the UK Currently
When the first national lockdown ended, people all over the UK let out a sigh of relief, finally getting back to ‘normal’ after over 12 weeks of being stuck in the house! On the 25th of July, Boris Johnson announced that gyms (and other venues) were allowed to reopen and get business started again.
Gyms had to make a lot of changes to adapt to this new world with COVID-19 and to reopen safely, avoiding spreading the virus further. However, now there are lots of local lockdowns, especially in the North - A second national lockdown is back on the table, even if it’s just for 2 weeks as a circuit breaker.
From the 12th of October, the government introduced a new lockdown tier system; consisting of a medium, high and very high tier (1st, 2nd & 3rd). Gyms can stay open if they’re located in areas with tier 1 and 2 restrictions; if their premises are COVID-secure and social distancing & extra cleaning can be done.
Although, if your gyms fall into the third tier of restrictions it will be forced to close until case numbers drop in the area, as well as many other businesses - Non-compliance can lead to large fines and even prosecutions in serious cases. This will not just affect the economy, but also the mental health of those living under tighter lockdowns.
A survey conducted by UCL looking into the effects of the first lockdown on people's mental health. During the 10th week, participants overall had a much worse mental wellbeing, with many people reporting symptoms of anxiety, depression and serious stress - with many thinking of self-harm or suicide.
The government has an extremely hard job to do; trying to balance COVID cases, physical & mental wellbeing and the economy. All 3 could have a major impact on people's lives!
Do Gyms Have a Positive Effect on Mental Health?
Many people depend on going to the gym for their health & fitness, but also as a social outlet. Gym culture revolves around healthy ideals and a community of support, having positive effects on most people who visit. Both gym members and staff help to create a safe space for people to exercise and to encourage a healthy lifestyle (both physically and mentally)!
Initially, joining a new gym and starting to get back into exercise can seem scary but it’s an environment made for supporting those who want to get fit. When exercising, the brain signals to your body to start producing chemicals called endorphins!
These chemicals are proven to reduce the effects of pain & stress, regulate appetite and can make people feel euphoric - This is why some people get ‘addicted’ to exercise.
A review of research looking at exercises' effect on mental health found that symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression were greatly reduced when participants exercised for 30 minutes, 3 days a week! It is thought this is the effect of endorphins - Many doctors advise those suffering from poor mental health to start exercising to boost their mood.
Without gyms, many people would struggle to motivate themselves to get out and exercise. Gyms don’t just promote a healthy body, but also a healthy mind - Lots of people join the gym to grow and develop as an individual, not just to get a fit body!
The gym can also help people socialise and gain a support system, which they may not previously had access to. People who go to the gym often have similar ideals or goals, which can create real friendships! UK research found that gyms can make a supportive community for gym-goers mental health, often providing a much-needed support bubble for people with more isolated lives.
How Will Gyms Closing Affect Mental Health?
Overall, we know that gyms & exercise can provide many different positive effects on people's mental health. With many gyms facing closure, people are worried that all these positive effects will disappear and once again mental health in the UK will decline. If an area falls into the third tier of lockdown restrictions, mental health issues will surely rise once again.
Gyms can often help those who suffer from sleep issues, improve confidence, self-esteem, energy and social withdrawal - Losing access to them could cause chaos for many UK residents. Affording expensive gym equipment is not an option for many people and with the winter months approaching, exercising outside may no longer be viable.
Socially, gyms are also very important - research has shown that those without social support suffer when exposed to negative life events, having a knock-on effect on their mental health. Gyms offer many people with social support, which is especially important for those who live a more isolated life, potentially being the only form of support available to them!
In these stressful and uncertain times, gyms offer a great distraction and release, closing them again could have dire consequences - causing many people more stress. We are still suffering from the effects of the first lockdown, many feel a second would be devastating for mental health.
So, What are Gyms Doing to Stay COVID-Secure?
The role of gyms in society is extremely important, now more than ever, all across the world people want to stay fit and healthy - Not just for their physical health, but for mental health too! Since the start of the pandemic, gyms have put in a lot of hard work to reopen and stay safe.
The government has provided guidance on how to work safety during the pandemic, with some specific advice for gyms. From the 28th of September, it became a legal requirement for COVID-secure measures to be in place at gyms and other leisure venues. Gyms that don’t comply could be given large fines or even face closure.
There are 7 steps gyms have taken to reduce the transmission of the virus, which are:
The response from gyms during this pandemic has been amazing, with many speaking to health and safety consultants to implement new measures, going above and beyond what the government advised. Hundreds of gyms across the UK have started offering online workout classes and PT sessions (via zoom, skype, etc), this is an amazing method to reduce social contact and it keeps the support and social aspect of going to the gym.