THE POWER OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Physical activity improves immunity, decreases inflammation, and decreases viral respiratory infections that are apparent in COVID-19 sufferers. The primary infection of COVID is in the lungs, and immune systems are critical to fighting the infection. Moreover, two new studies found that exercising amplified the immune response to the vaccine (Reynolds, 2020). This could potentially be applied to the COVID-19 shot as well because the basic principles of vaccine response are the same. But future studies need to confirm that once a vaccine becomes available.
It is evident that the lack of access to exercise and physical activity can also have mental health impacts, which can create stress or anxiety that many will experience in the face of isolation from normal social life. Moreover, physical activity also lowers the risk of developing cognitive impairment, such as dementia, and is associated with more energy and less fatigue during the day and better sleep at night (Lindsay, 2020).
IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND RELATED STAKEHOLDERS
COVID-19 is harming public health which extends not only to those who have tested positive, but also the ones that were having fewer physical activities and social interactions. These phycological and behavior changes when calculated might even exceed the direst harms of the virus.
Fitbit shared the statistics of the impact of COVID-19 on global physical activity, almost all of the countries they studied experienced a statistically significant decline in average step count compared to the same time last year (Fitbit 2020). In certain metropolitan areas, the decline is even sharper.
Gyms and fitness studios were forced to close amid the pandemic. A lot of private studios didn’t even survive financially. Though many have reopened, it’s not the same anymore. Imagine grabbing a door handle wrapped in vinyl and walk inside. The receptionist takes your temperature and a waistband that’ll help the staff remind you when it’s time to go. You want some water but realized that drinking fountains have been replaced by touchless bottle fillers. Then you see people lifting weights wearing face masks and latex gloves. After a long workout, you rush home to take a shower. Gyms would not be the same even in the time of the post-pandemic. Safety procedures will likely stay and change the way we think about the gym. An international survey concludes that Americans are the least likely to return to their gym upon reopening (Rizzo, 1970).
The closure of educational institutions around the world has also impacted the physical education sector. It has a board range of stakeholders that include public and private education institutions, sports organizations, parents, and young learners. Among them, kids are the most negatively affected as researchers believe that extended school closures due to COVID-19 could increase risk factors for weight gain in kids (Rundle, 2020).
Given that Americans made over 6 billion visits to gyms and studios (Rodriguez, 2019), keeping active might require new strategies.
Trend of home fitness on the rise
For many, exercising at home without any equipment and limited space can still be possible. Many fitness studios are offering reduced-rate subscriptions to apps and online video and audio classes of varying lengths that change daily. Going remote, in a way, equalized the playing field for fitness opportunities. It equalizes access for people who didn’t have the financial freedom or time flexibility to access a traditional facility. In the survey I conducted, 91.7% of the participants consider home fitness as an alternative to working out at the gym.
Peloton’s fiscal fourth-quarter sales surged 172%, as its high-tech stationary bike and treadmill became two of the hottest commodities for people looking to work out at home during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, Peloton’s users are working out more. It said its connected fitness subscribers are averaging 24.7 workouts per month, up from 12 a year earlier. This is due in part to the company launching more non-cycling workouts, like yoga and stretching, on its app (Thomas, 2020). They expect strong demand to continue into 2021. This shed light on the increasing demand and opportunities it has, as more people turn to home fitness.
VR/AR technology and gaming in home fitness
Games like Ring Fit Adventure and Just Dance aim to keep people stay active at home. It was such a success that it has once been sold out for more than a month at major retailers throughout North America. These games are far less expensive than high-tech equipment like Peloton and Mirror. Through the survey, I found that there is a good amount of people are using this as the strategy to stay active.
Samsung has the vision of incorporating AI and AR glasses to work out with a virtual trainer from the comfort of their living room. Their goal is to create personalized experiences that make life more convenient, more enjoyable, and more meaningful by using advanced technology which they call it the age of experience. In addition, VR is also in the line with providing more experiential and better workouts. Black Box VR, for example, brings the ‘world’s first virtual reality gym’ to life, and is expected to open their first studio this year in San Francisco, CA.
There still remain the problems of the digital and economic divide. Access to resources is far from universal. Not everyone has the access to digital technologies. Not to mention that the stationary bike and high techs are beyond imagination for individuals in poorer communities. Moreover, a lot of the technology like AR and VR are still in their infancy in the fitness industry; It is going to take some time to be prevalent and accessible for the general public to use.
People are being creative with their activities
According to interviews, a small amount of people points out that they are actually very motivated during the time of COVID because they had found ways to keep their body moving in a fun and sustainable way. These activities include walking, playing with kids, cycling, and so on. Moreover, through my observations, I found that there are more people walking & jogging in the Olentangy trail than before.
COVID-19 IS NOT THE CAUSE BUT A CATALYST
The problem around physical inactivity existed long before the pandemic. A study published in May reports that there is an average of 32 percent reduction in physical activity among previously active participants; however, it is unchanged among preciously inactive participants. (Meyer) It’s good to note that physical inactivity and sedentariness were not all caused by COVID-19. It’s the modern lifestyle that promotes these problems which are intensified by social distancing and mandated quarantine measures.
Even before COVID-19, only about 25% of the people in America get enough physical activities according to the government’s definition (at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, plus two strength-training sessions).
During the interview, I found that during the pandemic, some people have more time to be focusing on their personal wellbeing. 73.8% of the participants in my survey, said that they are seeking for establishing a workout routine. However, the majority of them are still not living to the recommended guild line in terms of daily activities.
When asked about the biggest obstacles to reach fitness goals, “Lack of motivation” “Time” and “laziness” were the leading answers. It is obvious that the fundamental problem of inactivity among these people was not the pandemic nor the stay home order, it was the mentality of why exercising?
COVID-19 has spawned unprecedented uncertainty, but it’s also created new opportunities. It highlighted the fact that we need to think about how to support physical activity during the pandemic and beyond.
When developing a solution for that, we need to take the public’s mentality and perception around the idea of physical activity into consideration. It is better to target the root of the problem than to find superficial solutions to the symptoms. The question is how do we rethink the society that prioritizes and supports physical activity.
“The Impact of COVID-19 on Sport, Physical Activity and Well-Being and Its Effects on Social Development.” UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Policy Briefs, 2020, doi:10.18356/a606a7b1-en.
Meyer, J., McDowell, C., Lansing, J., Brower, C., Smith, L., Tully, M., & Herring, M. (2020). Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviour due to the COVID-19 outbreak and associations with mental health in 3,052 US adults. Cambridge Open Engage. doi:10.33774/coe-2020-h0b8g
Rodriguez, M. (2019, March 28). Latest IHRSA Data: Over 6B Visits to 39,570 Gyms in 2018. https://www.ihrsa.org/about/media-center/press-releases/latest-ihrsa-data-over-6b-visits-to-39-570-gyms-in-2018/.
Fitbit. (2020, March 25). The Impact Of Coronavirus On Global Activity. Fitbit Blog. https://blog.fitbit.com/covid-19-global-activity/.
Lindsay, A. (2020, May). Physical activity is a strong benefit during COVID-19. University of Nevada, Reno. https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2020/physical-activity-during-covid.
Reynolds, G. (2020, August 26). Exercise May Boost Your Vaccine Response. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/well/move/exercise-may-boost-your-vaccine-response.html?searchResultPosition=1.
Rizzo, N. (1970, August 23). Gyms Reopening: 46.67% of Members Won’t Return [Study]. Athletic shoe reviews. https://runrepeat.com/gyms-reopening-coronavirus.
Rundle, A. (2020, April). COVID-19 school closings drive risk for weight gain, unhealthy behaviors among children. Healio. https://www.healio.com/news/endocrinology/20200409/covid19-school-closings-drive-risk-for-weight-gain-unhealthy-behaviors-among-children.
Thomas, L. (2020, September 11). Peloton crushes estimates as sales surge 172%, expects strong demand to continue into 2021. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/10/peloton-pton-reports-fiscal-.html.