Gym owners balk at quarantine restriction

Gym, fitness center and health club owners as well as fitness professionals from all over the country were in an uproar upon learning that they would not be allowed to resume operations when the enhanced community quarantine is lowered to general community quarantine in some areas on May 15. What angered them was the announcement that spas, salons and barber shops would be allowed to reopen because they were declared “essential for health and well-being.“ But aren’t fitness centers similarly necessary to make people healthier and stronger, if not even more so?

“Studies show that the severe cases of COVID-19 which led to mortality included those who are obese, smokers, or with existing lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases linked to smoking, alcohol and drug abuse,” declares Gerald Tenorio, Gold’s Gym Philippines fitness and training director.

“Studies show that the severe cases of COVID-19 which led to mortality included those who are obese, smokers, or with existing lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and other diseases linked to smoking, alcohol and drug abuse,” declares Gerald Tenorio, Gold’s Gym Philippines fitness and training director. “I believe that if you are a regular gym goer, you believe in the immune-boosting and preventive medicine values of exercise.”

“It has been scientifically proven that physical fitness improves resistance to disease and to the coronavirus, and that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to general reduction of health and quality of life,” adds Patrick Tan, president of the National Athletic Committee (NAC)-Philippines, the country’s amateur bodybuilding organization. “Because of this, I believe that gyms and physical therapy facilities must be allowed to open as soon as possible, so that people are given the opportunity to keep active and fit as means to improve their resistance to disease.”

Weight training is a part of practically every strength and conditioning regimen. Beyond that, fitness centers are also businesses that help stimulate the economy, not just through their training programs, but in other ways. Healthier citizens eat better, perform better, are generally better behaved, and are not a burden on health care. And it starts with going to the gym.

“What they are not taking into consideration is that there are a lot of small businesses, stand alone gyms and clubs on the edge already to close,” Shyla Marquez of Slimmers World International told The STAR. “For some, rent will just have a 30-day grace period, and there are unavoidable operational expenses even while we are closed.”

For big chains like Slimmers World, the costs continue even during quarantine. All told, they have unavoidable expenses of about P2 million a month for all their Philippine branches combined, even while closed. Another few months of zero revenue would be a financial disaster. For those intrepid enough to put up independent fitness centers, it could be fatal.

“We just launched last November. Built from the ground up, and not just rented a place, and put equipment in it. Really a proper, world class gym. Super clean and sanitized. It’s heartbreaking that we can’t operate,” reveals broadcaster Del Bacho,  director for mixed martial arts and marketing manager of Victory Gym and Athletic Club in Subic Bay. “Also we are the only gym to not take a cut from private coaching of instructors, everything goes to them. Now these guys have no income.”

Think about it. Most gyms are bigger and as well-maintained as many of the salons, spas and barber shops we know. There is no human contact, save for those who are being trained individually. And even then, the only minor touching done is to guide the clients’ movements in doing their exercises. Even if they are shared, weights and machines can be disinfected, and most patrons already wear gloves, anyway. Putting on masks will just be a minor adjustment.

“I believe there is concern about the possibility of transmission through sweat, “ Tan continues. “But 1) that is not a scientific statement, and 2) if that were true,  everyone has to be required to use PPEs in all everyday activities like standing in the market queue to buy food.”

In spas, there is much more human contact, particularly during massage sessions. In barber shops and salons, even if the implements are sterilized, one could get cut during a haircut, shave, manicure or pedicure. Plus, the patrons are static, immobile. In fitness centers, everyone is moving. In parts of the US, the new global epicenter of the pandemic with over a million positive cases, gyms were among allowed to open when the lockdown was first lifted. So it doesn’t make sense that fitness centers should be left out.
“Exercise is shown to lead to better mood and sleep, less stress and anxiety, and most importantly, it’s great for the immune system,” says Noel Tordesillas, chief executive officer of Ride Revolution. “Yes, as studio owners, we need to enforce strict measures on social distancing and maintaining a clean and sterilized environment. But at a time when people are isolated from each other, our business is essential to people’s physical and mental health. The coronavirus pandemic is a health crisis, so what better reason to prioritize the opening of fitness centers and studios?”

“Surely, we will follow all the guidelines such as social distancing (which is about leaving an unused equipment in between users), wearing a mask and even surgical gloves (or full finger exercise gloves),” adds Tenorio. “As part of an international gym chain, we have all the safety guidelines and protocols from our US headquarters. I am confident gym goers will follow the new norms of gyms while the pandemic rages.”

All the large fitness center brands are drafting a joint statement appealing to Inter-Agency Task Force ruling. The missive includes detailed  plans to prevent infection and contamination in their establishments. They speak for all gyms, big and small. And their arguments make sense. They actually help make the citizenry stronger against the virus. Government should sit up and listen.

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