On National Fitness Day, a Camberwell gym owner has pressed the Government for more support during a difficult time for the industry.
Hemal Gill, who opened easyGym Camberwell in joint ownership with her husband last October, feels more could be done to help gyms bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis.
At a time when Boris Johnson has again encouraged people to work from home if they can, Ms Gill also feels gyms could be important to boosting Covid-19 immunity through improving physical and mental health.
She said: “The healthy eating campaign is great, with loads of resources, but it’s hard to eat well and then exercise.
“If you start with exercising you also start to eat better, the knock-on effect of that is building a better immune system, and in turn that supports the health service.
“There are things the Government could do to link in with the industry, by supporting people to go to the gym and sign up, just as they did with restaurants, and information about safe exercise and building foundational strength could easily be part of the public messaging.
“Home workouts are good, but they have limits that gyms can help you extend. In a gym you feel supported and motivated, then you start to feel optimistic, and you can get guidance on exercising and healthy eating.
“Many people working from home are not sitting on ergonomic chairs, and some who can’t afford an office space work sitting in their beds.
“Moreover, a lot of people who’ve never run before have started running, on pavements, and in traffic with all that pollution. Physiotherapists are reporting an increase in repetitive strain injuries, and strength training is the best way to avoid that.
Ms Gill is worried that the gym industry has been portrayed as unsafe during the Covid crisis, but explained the gym is very clean, with machines at least 2m apart and positioned so no one breathes in to another’s air-space, and air is circulated in from outside.
She added: “We’ve spent a long and tiring time working all of this out and making it safe.”
As a new business operating in central London, the gym didn’t qualify for financial support during the lockdown.
The time closed meant that they’ve been shut nearly as long as they’ve been open, and the bills didn’t stop.
Ms Gill started a telephone contact service, where anyone, not just members, could call in, and feels the gym has become the community enterprise she hoped it would.
She said: “It’s a local business, all about building a community.
“When they started talking about gym closures, my first instinct was to wonder what will happen to my members, who come for physical and emotional well-being, and my personal trainers, who are self employed.
“It was a bit scary but members stayed with us even though we couldn’t open. I’m so grateful, I think our members really saved us.”
George Taylor, Director of easyGym in Slough, has worked in the industry for nearly a decade.
He explained gyms are having to work hard to rebuild customer confidence as many people are now sceptical about Covid safety.
He said: “The reality is the opposite of the idea that people will catch Covid at the gym. Since gyms reopened on July 25 over forty million people have visited them with a really low rate of infection, I think around 17 people.
“Everything is well spaced and very clean.”
Lockdown was hard on their business.
He added: “I think if they had thought about it more seriously they would have thought to keep gyms open.
“People have lost their jobs, they are going through separations and other strains on relationships, these things have a huge impact on people.
“We are trying to encourage people to come into the gym not just to keep themselves fit but also to keep themselves happy.
“A lot of people are talking about health from the physical side, but the mental health side is massive, and there’s a knock-on effect for health services too.
“I do sympathise with the Government, who have a lot to do, but we haven’t had enough support, and I think we do need the Government to appreciate the role we can play, and understand that if we can keep open we can help the fight against Covid and help people with their mental and physical health.”
easyGym Slough have used the opportunity of being closed for a full revamp, and open again on Monday 28 September.
easyGym Camberwell have free sessions with personal trainers, free sports massage and one on one boxing sessions available today for National Fitness Day, visit their website to book.
Credit: easyGym Camberwell