Club Insider

Exercise IS Medicine!

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Mike AlpertMike Alpert

The COVID-19 pandemic has reeked havoc on the health and fitness club industry and has changed so many things that we were accustomed to. Many of those changes have affected businesses throughout the world, and certainly, here in the United States. As States and counties begin to reopen, businesses are being required to change the way they operated in the past to meet guidelines set up by their governing officials. And, it seems that some of the guidelines continue to change on a somewhat regular basis.

Most recently, in Los Angeles County, it has been mandated that members at gyms and fitness centers must wear a cloth face covering and gloves at all times while in the club, including while exercising. How healthy can it be to wear a cloth face covering while exerting a lot of energy? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), on June 16, 2020, they are quoted as saying, "people should not wear masks when exercising as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly, which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms." And, in some cities and States, like New York and New Jersey, clubs are still not allowed to reopen, even as they struggle to service their fixed costs and operating expenses.

It is hard to believe that exercise and fitness are not deemed essential businesses, although liquor stores, convenience stores and fast food chains are. It seems like some governing officials deem it more important to be able to purchase liquor and beer to relieve stress during this crisis than building up one's immune system, reducing anxiety and depression, improving one's overall health through exercise.

REX Roundtables surveyed their member clubs that had opened in mid-June to track the following: check-in since reopening; member COVID positive cases; employee COVID positive cases; total COVID positive cases and percent infection rate. Here are the results: 1,679,494 check-ins since respective reopening dates; 31 total COVID positive cases; 40,963 average check-ins per day; 0.73 average COVID positive cases. I would think that this would convince any elected official that gyms are indeed safe, as long as they are adhering to proper social distancing, masks while in common areas and proper sanitizing and disinfecting.

And, this isn't just during the current COVID crisis. No one I know of, including elected officials deny the overall benefit that exercise has on health. If asked publicly, they all respond positively to that. But, what does it take to get them to take action on it? Look at what we as an industry have gone through with the PHIT bill: years of lobbying and meetings and still no signed bill. And, how do you even get meetings: You have to be contributing to your elected official's campaign. And, that is just the beginning. In many states, membership dues are taxed to support budgets that are out of control. We have a health care system that is broken. Health care costs are at an all-time high. The country, in my opinion has done a terrible job of teaching people how to manage their health care and their health care costs. We know that exercise and proper nutrition help people live a healthier and more independent life, and what do we do? In many states, we take away the incentive for them to join a health club by taxing their dues. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

The Claremont ClubUnfortunately, to get any real traction at the Federal and State levels, it seems that you must have a strong lobbying effort, which comes at a substantial cost. Although our industry has had many successes over the years, especially regarding legislative advocacy, I have been somewhat let down during the COVID crisis. It just doesn't seem like our voice has been loud enough. Over the past 29 years, I have been writing and "preaching" about the need for us to help bridge the gap between health care and fitness by getting the experts from each industry to begin working together instead of so independently. Can you imagine the lobbying strength we would have if the AMA and IHRSA were working together to promote Exercise is Medicine? At no time is it more relevant or needed than NOW!

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