Making Your Decision About Going Back to the Gym

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Before you read, this is the 2nd part of a 2 part blog, click here to read the 1st!

Making Your Decision 

If you’re reading this as a frequent gym-goer, you might be wondering what you should do, and how should consider the risk associated with going back to the gym. Maybe you’re a gym owner, manager, or employee at a gym. You might be wondering how can I maximize the safety of my members, while at the same time propagating health and fitness that is so vital to the betterment of society. I don’t claim to have all the answers (or even all the considerations). I do want to provide a perspective lens through which we all (members and industry officials alike) can make decisions in the best interest of “doing no harm.”

Like many of the cost-benefit analyses we’re doing with regard to returning to “normal” life, there isn’t a straightforward answer. I’d ask you to objectively and dispassionately consider the evidence and your own life circumstances (such as your health and the health of those you live with) and make your decision based on that. Keeping that in mind, I’m a list guy and I feel that statement is not very instructive, so I do aim to provide some more precise ways to consider this below. Nothing I say abdicates your responsibility to conduct your individual cost-benefit analysis; I merely aim to provide you a starting point with some context for that analysis. Right now, based on the evidence (and relative lack of understanding of this novel virus) I’ll propose a binary hierarchy that seems appropriate: high risk and moderate risk. I use this hierarchy largely because even if the risk to you individually is small, the risk of infecting others you live with (or in society) who are more vulnerable makes even low risk individuals a greater risk as a result of the dynamics of a pandemic. 

High Risk

I’ll start with where there are the clearest indications of not returning until there is a vaccine, robust therapeutics, or the virus has otherwise abated; the high risk category. If you are over the age of 60 years old or you have any chronic health condition that compromises your immune system you should seriously consider the potential risks of contracting a more severe form of COVID-19 at the gym. If this is the case, consider if there is an alternative way to accomplish your exercise that doesn’t involve going back to a gym at this time. If you do choose to return it will be important to take proper precautions; wear a mask, ensure your gym is implementing all reopening guidance from state and federal officials, as well as industry professional organizations. If your gym offers a time for seniors or immunocompromised clients try to take advantage and go at that time. One important note, I do realize there are people over the age of 60 who are very fit (and in better shape that many 40 year olds), 60 is just an evidence-based cutoff point put in place by public health experts, if you are the outlier in terms of health in later age, that should factor into your decision. 

Moderate/Lower Risk

Moving down the risk hierarchy, if you’re younger or middle-aged with minimal chronic health conditions (and no conditions that affect immune function) your decision can largely be based on the environment you’re returning to and what you can do to protect yourself when in that environment. Here are some specific mitigation strategies you can look for to ensure your gym is meeting the latest state, federal, and industry guidance:

  • Document policies and procedures to mitigate COVID-19, including posted client (or member) codes of conduct
  • Social distancing and attendance control procedures (i.e., scheduling, decals on the floor, etc.)
  • Amplified disinfecting protocols
  • Limiting locker room use
  • Requirement for masks in all non-exercise areas. Encouragement of masks when exercising
  • Staff wearing appropriate PPE (mask or face shields always, other PPE when required)
  • Improved ventilation/HVAC
  • Pre-screening/symptom checking of members/clients and employees
  • Contact tracing mechanisms to inform the local health department and members/clients of potential exposures 

Keep in mind, as I said previously, considering your own health status is not enough here. You need to consider the health status of those you are in close contact with (particularly the people you live with). If you are in the moderate risk category, but someone you come into close contact with frequently is higher risk that might (depending on your circumstances) put you in that higher risk category (for their sake, not yours). 

Fellow Fitness Professionals 

I want to close by speaking to all my brothers and sisters in the industry. I know that many of you are facing the survival of your businesses, having issues paying bills, and are struggling to take care of employees and clients you love dearly. I also realize (from personal experience) you have a very vocal minority of clients who are telling you how excited they are to get back into your facilities and return to “normal.” I also know, full well, how passionate all of you are at helping the people you serve lead a more fulfilled life through fitness. All of these factors are real, and nothing I say can change any of them. I am wrestling with these very same things myself right now. 

What I’d ask you to do is consider looking through the lens I’ve provided in this piece and reflecting on some important questions:

  1. How do we “first, do no harm?”
  2. Why do we do what we do on a daily basis (what drives us)? What is our true purpose as an industry? What is our role in allied health? 
  3. What are we doing right now to support that role in the short, intermediate, and long-term?  Could we be sacrificing the long-term for the shorter term (like our clients do so many times with the health)? 
  4. How informed are we truly on the issues we’re facing right now, both on the microeconomic and public health level? 
  5. How transparent are we really being right now and is there a way to increase that level of transparency? 
  6. How can we innovate, change, and pivot to accommodate the needs of communities we serve given the constraints of COVID-19?
  7. What will be the legacy of our industry (and you for that matter) during this pandemic? How will history remember us? 
  8. Finally, how can what we do now set the stage for our industry to be a more active constituent in allied health for decades to come? How can this impact global health and wellbeing? 

It’s not for me to answer these questions for you. I don’t even think I have all the answers to them for myself right now. All I respectfully ask you to do is consider my lens and perspective. Take the time to contemplate and reflect then act in a manner that is consistent with the deepest values that led you to this industry (and to helping so many people) in the first place. I implore you to go beyond “do no harm,” and ascend to the higher plain of optimizing health and wellbeing. We have the opportunity for this to be a truly inflection point in how society views our industry, let’s capture this moment in time and have it create the lasting legacy our industry deserves.

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