Gyms fostering physical and mental health going into 2022

New year overshadowed by restrictions




SaltWire Network


TRURO - Regardless of new year’s fitness resolutions, gyms in the Truro area are focused on helping people stay healthy during the COVID pandemic. Under current restrictions, gyms are permitted to operate at 50 per cent capacity, which has not been a major issue for those in rural areas. Josee Gallant of Bluenose Fitness in Bible Hill thinks isolation has helped people rethink their health and look for other ways to be social while staying distanced and adds that gyms can be therapeutic. “I think people need to get away and gyms are providing that. And if you get yourself as healthy as possible, if you encounter COVID at some point, at least you're starting with a healthy system and the chances on your side.” Rath Eastlink Community Centre general manager Matt Moore said they have been “hanging on tightly” since the pandemic first started. Historically, memberships have been around 3,600 users, and Moore said they were at about 50 per cent of that last November. He said the facility’s strengths as an all-inclusive venue with the ice rink, climbing wall, pool and gym have been overshadowed by scaled back programming, with parents and siblings working out while a child was at an ice practice. “It is what it is,” he said. “I don't want to lose the fact that despite the challenges of the pandemic, we still have an obesity epidemic among us," said Moore, encouraging people to still find ways to be active. A DIFFERENT NEW YEAR FITNESS BOOM Gyms like the one at the RECC, which celebrates 10 years in 2023, typically have a boom following the holidays. “Normally what we see this time of year is a large volume of new faces; folks come in with the best of intention to start the new year on the right foot,” said Moore. “And we haven't seen the same level of traffic that we've seen in previous years pre-pandemic. It's been quite quiet, actually.” Troy Ferguson at New Beginnings Gym in Bible Hill said their members are typically serious trainers of all ages, with fewer drop-offs and new year’s joiners. Although Bluenose Fitness also usually has consistent membership, Gallant said interest has “exploded” for an introductory Crossfit class starting on Jan. 10. “It’s just your everyday people that are going to get healthier, and this is picking up like crazy,” said Gallant, who adds they are looking at offering more classes due to capacity limits. She said her gym has been one of the few businesses doing well during the pandemic, but restrictions have also constrained growth for the facility, which recently celebrated six years. They are adding a Crossfit camp in February for children ages 11 to 17. “Children are missing out on a lot of important years of sports and we are trying to provide a safe place to get some exercise in and, at least, have our kids active,” said Gallant. The RECC’S fitness classes, originally set to resume following the holidays on Jan. 3, were postponed to Jan. 12 as a facility decision considering capacity limits and staff and members’ families. “There was so much unknown about whether or not we would be able to return in the new year to normal operations or if there was going be further restrictions imposed,” said Moore. “So, we thought it would be wise to take a breath ... coming off of the holiday season for them to provide us with some more updated guidance on what sort of limits we'd be dealing with.” The current restrictions have been extended, but Moore said they will still resume on Jan. 12. “That's the intent. We'll move ahead under public health guidelines. We’ll work with the capacity that we have and as we need to adapt based on the demand that we receive. So, maybe a larger volume of classes, practices offered, smaller capacity, if that's what's needed for the time being." NOT JUST FOR PHYSICAL HEALTH For those who actively use recreational facilities, these places are for more than physical health. The initial two lockdowns were brutal for those who suddenly found themselves without an outlet, with detrimental effects for some on mental health. “This is like a release,” said Ferguson. “You get around people, you socialize – and all of a sudden you take that away. And now home, dealing with it on your own, every minute.” Ferguson does not shy away from the belief that those with mental health and addictions are often the ones who need it the most. Others cannot afford increasingly expensive gym equipment or do not have space. “I know everybody that comes to the door, I know the family, I know the kids,” said Ferguson. “So there's a relationship there. It's a family.” He sees people fearing another lockdown and is hopeful about Nova Scotia’s position. “Until that (COVID) announcement happens, people are worried because I hear it all day,” said Ferguson. "You see that their guard’s up, their anxiety level goes up.” During the lockdown, Gallant said Bluenose Fitness rented its equipment to users for at-home workouts and that sticking to habits is vital for many people. “Having that stop for a long period of time is obviously discouraging for many,” she said. Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has said he recognizes the importance of these facilities for people’s well-being, citing national data showing how isolation intensified issues such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders. “Substantive impacts on the individual and collective mental health is one of the reasons why (lockdown) is only a tool at this point in the pandemic you use if absolutely necessary,” said Strang. “It comes back to balancing COVID and other impacts, and certainly mental health was at the forefront as we look at those other impacts.” Gyms are diligent about wiping down surfaces, distancing and proof of vaccination. Masking is not required while working out since breathing heavily with a mask on can be hazardous. Some gyms in provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec are defying public health orders to shut down during the recent wave. Ferguson sees those mandates as “harsh.” “I think people out west now are starting to protest the closures just because they are learning that COVID variants, flu and viruses are not going anywhere,” said Ferguson. “It's kind of learn to live with it.”