Exercise Is Essential In The Age Of Covid

Joyce Coates
County Reporter
COVID and the Fear Factor Hurt Fitness Centers and Members
Each of the owners of Warsaw’s two fitness centers demonstrate a particular expertise, which among other factors, helps their respective members reach their health and wellness goals. At the same time, of course, they enjoy a “healthy” competition to attract loyal members that had been working well for a long time for both businesses.
That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic when both Warsaw Fitness, owned and operated by Brian Phillips, and Integrated-Fitness, owned and operated by Randal Postel, lost members and experienced financial setbacks that have yet to be overcome. The lockdowns from early April to early May 2020 imposed by City and County officials to prevent spread of the virus hit the fitness centers hard. Both applied for relief, but neither Warsaw Fitness nor Integrated-Fitness received any CARES Act grants or loans.
Even now, after reopening 7 months ago, fear of contracting COVID keeps people away. Phillips said what is true for both fitness centers, that “business has slowed down” but we are “trying to survive.” He said members have called to say they are not renewing their memberships, rather are putting them on hold for fear of getting sick.
“When we reopened in May,” Postel said, “only about one-third of our clients returned.” “Some with pre-existing conditions are afraid to come back. Some contracted the virus elsewhere and had to quarantine. Others say they hope to come back next year. On the other hand, some who have been away for a few years have started to return. By now we may have about half the number we had before.”
Phillips and Postel agree that fitness centers are essential for keeping people healthy, physically and mentally. International health organizations emphasize also how being housebound tempts people to eat more and to eat unhealthy foods, and leads to stress and boredom from isolation and inactivity.
In September this year, Boston PRNewswire reported a study by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) of more than 2800 health and fitness facilities nationwide that “conclusively found that fitness facilities are safe and are not contributing to the spread of COVID-19;” that “access to a fitness center is key to keeping Americans healthy.”
According to the study, physical exercise helps maintain a healthy immune system, and reduces conditions most vulnerable to COVID, such as obesity, heart and lung diseases, and diabetes. Exercise reduces stress and depression and contributes to better mental health. An October 2020 article in Fortune carries the headline “Staying fit is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The virus “disrupted our society,” it said, but “also created an opportunity to improve our country’s health—by transforming exercise into the primary weapon in our fight against disease.”
The Fortune article notes what Integrated-Fitness and Warsaw Fitness owners have found to be true, that clients’ fear of contracting the virus in enclosed spaces may keep them away indefinitely. The Hill wrote in March this year about the “Fear factor” made worse by media, and politicians running with “sensational or alarming news stories.” 
Phillips, and Postel, take extra measures at their respective fitness centers to sanitize the facilities and equipment and follow the health department guidelines. Warsaw Fitness stays open 24/7, and during peak hours from 8:30 to 4:30 Phillips said his manager is onsite and constantly cleaning. There is no mask mandate, so masks are optional for clients, Phillips said, but he wears his almost all the time. Social distancing is in effect, and partner workouts are only allowed for people who come in together. 
The way Warsaw Fitness business has slowed in the 5,200 square foot space since COVID, fewer people working out at any given time means everyone has about 1,000 square feet to themselves. 
Integrated-Fitness, a 2,800 square foot facility, is about half the size of Warsaw Fitness. To some members who have returned, the negatives have a positive side. “At first,” one member said, “I wasn’t sure about coming back; if the gym were bigger and had more people I might be more concerned.”
“To follow social distancing,” Postel said, “we shut down one treadmill to keep distance between the others. We have gym wipes for sanitizing equipment, benches and surfaces after each use, and clean and sanitize constantly, and most clients also use them after they have finished their routines. We haven’t had more than 10 people in the gym at once, or even that many, for a long time. Masks are available, but not required. We also have a Fresh-Air Surround purifier on all day that kills airborne viruses.”
COVID-19 risks are real: Missouri’s Health Department Dashboard shows Benton County had 63 new cases in the last seven days ending 12/14/2020; zero deaths in the same period, and 21 percent positives from the total 352 tests in the same period. Nevertheless, everyone is encouraged to weigh the risks to their personal health based on facts, not fear.
Undeniably, the health of Warsaw’s fitness centers and the health of their clientele is intertwined, and likewise, the ability to persevere through the lingering impact of COVID-19.