People or profit.

As the pandemic endures, the discussion around policy, and specifically the newest lockdown measures mandated in December 2020, is centred around these two seemingly incompatible choices.  If I talk about the income lost or the lives shattered as a result of the financial strain on our economy a year into a global pandemic, I’m a capitalist that only cares about money. If I advocate for a global reset, locking everything down until this goes away in order to save lives, then I am berated by families who have lost everything due to the closures. People or profit are often seen as mutually exclusive, and the polarization is only intensifying as the months proceed.

I strongly believe that you can be purposely concerned for both. As the owner of a gym in West Hamilton for the last eight years, our main goal has always been to support and promote the health and wellbeing of our clients. I won’t speak directly to the reasons behind the lockdown, as no matter how much I read, it is not my area of expertise. I will, however, speak to the choice that the government has made to deem gyms and recreational facilities non-essential: it’s crippling. I’ve noticed that the longer the lockdown measures have been in place, the number of people affected negatively, both physically and mentally, has increased exponentially, regardless of whether or not they have been directly affected by the virus.

People go to the gym for many different reasons.  Some are there primarily for aesthetics, while others attend to train for events.  What’s largely been ignored in the conversation (perhaps because of how gyms are generally perceived), are the populations that come in who suffer from long-term health issues such as MS, varying types of cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and mental illness, just to name a few. Exercise is their solace. Exercise is a way for people to experience autonomy, mitigate pain, and feel a sense of accomplishment – and they’re missing it. I’m also concerned about those that have worked hard to create motivation both in and out of the gym to rid themselves of previously horrible relationships with things like food, alcohol, drug/medication abuse, and even abusive relationships. They’ve worked incredibly hard to forge these new pathways and the offering of zoom workouts does little to help. There’s nothing personal about a webcam, and it provides neither the environment nor the community that comes with a facility, which has been scientifically shown to increase motivation, adhesion, and success.

The amount of phone calls and texts I have been getting, from this population in particular, asking for advice during these hard times is profoundly upsetting.

 

While I understand the decision to keep beer, liquor, and cannabis stores open during the lockdown, there’s a reason liquor sales have skyrocketed this year, and it’s not solely for having kept addicts from suffering severe withdrawal. I find it a little absurd that we continue to provide unfettered access to incredibly unhealthy substances, which have been medically shown to decrease life expectancy as well as diminish the overall quality of peoples’ lives, rather than attempting to address the actual causes of and long-term remedies to addiction.

I can get behind the provincial government when they encourage everyone to wear masks and keep their distance. I can get behind them when they enforce restrictions on small businesses. I cannot get behind them as they keep big box stores open at full capacity with the most passive screening at the front doors. I cannot get behind other businesses being open while my doors are shut and the population of people that use exercise as a way to help deal with chronic pain and anxiety, among other things, are now choosing to go down much more harmful paths that they’ve worked so hard to get away from.

Exercise is essential.

Physical activity is essential.

Community is essential.

I want gyms to be considered essential because it is infuriating to see years of dedicated hard work and progress by our members be whittled away over these idle months due to indiscriminate closures. There is a way to do this where we all work together. We can keep small businesses open – late last year we were still open and operating within the guidelines set out by the provincial government. The locations of transmissions are not even reflective of so many of the businesses now forced to close. This is not black and white. Punishing the vast majority of the population that dutifully observe the guidelines in order to compel the rule-breakers to follow suit is not only nonsensical, but is also causing irreversible damage to most of us who are trying to stay sane, healthy, and keep food on our tables for our families.

 

Bryan Smith

Owner of Catalyst SPT, Certified Personal Trainer & Post-Rehab Conditioning Specialist

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