Warnings over health impact of closed fitness businesses

Fitness businesses which are still barred from opening under the Scottish Government’s coronavirus regulations have hit out after being told that there is still no date set for them to restart – warning that the nation’s physical health could be at risk.

Steve Marsden believes that gym closures could have an impact on people's health.

While pubs and bars have been allowed to operate since 15 July, as well as hair and beauty salons, gyms, fitness studios and other active venues such as ice rinks are still forced to remain closed, sparking anger from business owners who believe their activities are lower risk than some of those which have already been allowed to re-start.

Yesterday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that next week’s review of restrictions may not see any further relaxation of the rules in a bid to keep cases low, so that schools can open in August – and in order that the need for people with serious underlying medical conditions to shield can be lifted on 31 July.

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Steve Marsden, who runs Steve Marsden Fitness in Livingston, said: “The cycle has been ‘We will review this in three weeks’ and then every three weeks, I am very disappointed.”

Mr Marsden, who has been a personal trainer for five years and opened the doors of his gym in 2018, has been forced to let go one of his members of staff, while the future of his other two workers is hanging in the balance.

He said: “I have always believed that the NHS is spending far too much money on obesity-related diseases and a healthy lifestyle can help to stop that. Decimating my industry who just want to help people keep fit and healthy, when bars and restaurants and pubs can open, shows that a healthy lifestyle isn’t a priority.”

He said he usually only allowed five people in the gym at a time, while he has installed hand sanitising stations and anti-viral and bacterial wipe pods for members to use.

He added: “We have also always had a booking system with our members details on where, if there was an outbreak, we could get into contact with whomever was in the gym. I believe we are far safer than pubs, clubs, cafes and other industries with the steps we have taken.”

Marit Akintewe, who runs yoga studio and teacher training facility Seasonal Yoga in Glasgow, said that many other studios had made the decision to close their doors in the past month.

She said: “At first, when people thought it was only a few weeks, that was one thing, but now, when it has been months and we don’t know when - or if - it is going to end, people are just saying ‘that’s it, I can’t do it anymore’.

“It is bizarre that pubs were the first thing that opened when it is the very opposite of safe social distancing - when people drink alcohol, they are not going to be as careful. The government is saying it’s not safe to go to a yoga class, but it is safe to go to a pub. It is about the fact that they believe the economy needs the money from alcohol sales, but people’s wellbeing should be connected to things like yogs and fitness at gyms, rather than the pub.”

She added: “In terms of our studio, we have just signed another year’s lease, but I’m not expecting we will continue after that unless something changes massively. When we can open, the two metre - or even one metre - distancing restrictions would just make it impossible to operate, as it is already a very tight profit margin. Even once studios are allowed to open with minimal social distancing, it’s the idea of getting people back to being happy to be in a tightly packed room which could be difficult.”

Gym chains David Lloyd and Lift Gyms both said they had invited First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to visit a club to see the measures they are putting in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus prior to opening.

Andrew Smith, director of Edinburgh-based Lift Gyms, said: “With the pubs re-opening and the flagrant disregard being shown to social distancing, we are left frustrated that the steps we have taken - including 2.5m-plus social distancing, one way systems, individual antiviral wipes at every station, PPE for staff, enhanced cleaning routines, booking slots and the inherent track and trace system of a gym - that mirror best practice in other countries who have successfully been open for weeks, do not even get us the good grace of a firm date from the First Minister.”

David Lloyd’s regional manager for Scotland, Michelle Chambers-Cran, said: “Whilst we fully support the government’s approach of a considered and phased reopening of public places, we firmly believe that gyms and health clubs are more important than ever at this time and we urge the government to reconsider.

“Mental and physical fitness is proven to be key to enhancing the immune system, protecting people from Covid-19 and illnesses generally. The Scottish fitness industry provides essential facilities to support and improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the population which would be hugely beneficial we emerge from this health crisis.”