Gyms getting the support they need for nation’s mental and physical health

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The Great British Week of Sport could not have come at a better moment.

With the nation nervously awaiting daily news on the increase in coronavirus cases and whether ‘Lockdown 2’ is still just around the corner, physical activity has been pinpointed as the best possible way to help the NHS during the pandemic – and ukactive’s initiative is exactly the right tonic at the right time.

Far from feeling under threat, gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools should be revelling in a celebratory week of sport – and they are rightly encouraging as many people as possible to get involved in National Fitness Day today (Weds Sept 23).

While, sadly, pubs and restaurants have been highlighted as venues where the virus will quickly breed and have been told to close early, the country’s public health hotspots have now been given the support they need and kept open to keep its people healthy. 

Encouragingly the Sports minister Nigel Huddleston has spoken publicly about this. Addressing the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s annual conference earlier this week he said: “We need sport now more than ever – sport and physical activity are crucial to both our physical and mental health – both of which have been tested by this pandemic.

“We need the country to get match-fit to beat Covid. Too many facilities have been unable to open. We need them to open.”

To promote The Great British Week of Sport, ukactive published research which showed gyms and leisure facilities in England had more than 22 million visits between July 25 and Sept 13 with only 78 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among its customers. The number of cases per 100,000 visits was 0.34. 

The data came from 1,500 facilities and ukactive said: “the prevalence of the virus within the sector’s facilities remains extremely low… and very few people are visiting gyms with the virus”. 

Writing in The Daily Telegraph boutique gym owner Sandy Macaskill outlined just why modern gyms are actually the best places for social distancing and track and trace.

He explained: “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.”

And, most importantly, Macaskill says, most of his clients at his gym (Barry’s) say their priority is mental fitness over physical. The physical is almost a means to an end. As Sportsiders we appreciate that – it is as much about the ‘Connect’ as it is about the ‘Play’.

Following on from that, Ukactive also published research this week which found that almost 70 percent of people want to do more physical exercise because of coronavirus.

Almost a fifth of respondents said that being physically active was the best way to support the NHS, with more than half ranking exercise in the top three ways to help.

“Physical activity has never before played such a vital role in our lives, as we continue to face the health implications of the pandemic,” said Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chair of ukactive.

“Our sports clubs, gyms, parks and leisure centres help form the fabric of our society: supporting community cohesion, improving wellbeing, reducing loneliness and anti-social behaviour and boosting productivity in the workplace,” added Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of Sport England.

National Fitness day is being celebrated under the slogan ‘Fitness Unites Us’ and thousands of Covid-secure free events and activities are being put on in parks, leisure centres, gyms, schools and workplaces across the UK, as well as online through providers’ digital platforms, encouraging people to try new activities and start new fitness habits.

I tried one myself last night. 

In all my years on this planet I had never undertaken a beep test before. For the uninitiated this is, very simply, a series of 20 metre runs whereby you have to complete each run before the beep sounds.

While I can’t possibly reveal my score here (!), I do now plan to return to the test in six weeks’ time to see how much I can improve on my score. At a time when so much of our team sports have been denied to us, individual goal setting is going to be crucial for supporting our mental and physical health.

While I was doing the beep test, two of my children were doing an hour’s worth of physical exercise in the dark in our local park – under the watchful eye of a friend who wants to become a personal trainer for kids. It is a weekly event now.

Their exercises involve very little equipment – but just a lot of mental determination. And they come home absolutely shattered! But pleased with themselves for doing the work.

They then posted on social media using the the #BeActive hashtag to be a part of The Great British Week of Sport and encourage friends to do the same.

The Great British Week of Sport (GBWOS) which saw ukactive partner with Sport England, the Government and the European Commission, has already been a huge success.

It kicked off on Saturday with ‘World United’ as Lee Mills led a series of online workouts with 300 instructors. Other organisations to get involved during the week have included StreetGames, Mind (the mental health charity), RED Together (a movement empowering people to get active), ParaDance and Ordnance Survey (with its Get Outside campaign to try to get Britons discovering new green spaces to use for activity).

And throughout the week, people are being encouraged to use the ‘Active 10’ walking and ‘Couch to 5k’ running apps, in partnership with Public Health England’s Better Health campaign.

For so many the news on new restrictions has meant yet more devastation in an already devastating year – and so many sports clubs have been left fighting for survival. But keeping gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools open was a beacon of hope this week which can help keep the nation fit and mentally strong in these incredibly tough times.

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