Canadian Doctor Asks Pandemic Policymakers to Stop Seeing Fitness as “Recreational”

December 31, 2020 by
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On December 26, Ontario was launched into a 28-day lockdown — meaning all “non-essential” businesses, including fitness facilities throughout the entire province, have been forced to close — a measure Dr. Amer Johri, a cardiologist in Kingston, Ontario said is too extreme.

Johri, a member of Queen Street Fitness in Kingston, said he wishes policymakers would have at least tried to come up with a plan to keep fitness facilities open safely, instead of instituting “blanket closures” across the province, even in cities that haven’t been as hard hit. 

  • “In Kingston, we were in the yellow zone and our numbers had improved. Our gym was only allowing 10 people at a time and were going above and beyond in case we went into the orange zone. But then (the province) just leap frogged orange and red and went straight to a lockdown,” he explained. 
  • Johri added: “What we needed to do was come up with a model for a gym to be deemed safe, kind of like all the protocols they put in place in a hospital. They have screening processes, and social distancing and sanitation. They should have explored a gym model that works, but they didn’t.”

Why gyms must stay open: Johri is adamant that fitness facilities and fitness coaches have a huge role play in keeping people healthy now and into the future. They play an integral role for long-term, medium-term and even short-term health.

  • Long-term: The longer term health effects are about using fitness to help reduce various health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, said Johri, who has been involved in research about metabolic health. For patients with various metabolic health concerns, Johri often prescribes exercise programs to get these conditions “under control,” he said. So, the “long term is all about making lifestyle changes to improve health,” he said. And with gyms closed, this is impossible for these people.
  • Medium-term: One of the hardest things to do is to get people active and working to lose weight and get healthy, Johri said. “It’s much easier to prescribe someone a pill. I think it’s even harder (to get them working out) than quitting smoking, so if we’re talking about someone who had just started a fitness journey, that’s a precious journey that they’re on, and I’m worried this lockdown will break up their routine. Will they be able to get back on the journey and continue with it? We’re worried this will end up making them take steps back,” he said. 
  • Short-term: “The short term effects are a little bit more difficult to quantify and are more related to mental health. Many  people need support and coaching and community. Fitness is a big part of mental health management,” he said. 

One big thing: Gym owner and 2020 CrossFit Games athlete Pete Shaw put together a letter that he sent to more than 200 politicians and policymakers in November urging them to recognize the important role gyms and fitness coaches play in keeping people healthy right, and   15 doctors jumped at the opportunity to sign on in support, including Johri.

  • “Policymakers need to consider exercise is part of people’s management of their long-term chronic health conditions, and also in terms of prevention of disease. It’s part of their management, and it’s treatment that we advise patients to do. It’s essential for them,” Johri said. 

The bottom line: Johri is disappointed that fitness continues to be seen as a “recreational” hobby, as opposed to an integral piece of the puzzle to keep people healthy now and after the pandemic has run its course. 

  • Not everyone can afford to hire a personal trainer to be in their bubble and come to their home…And (depending on the weather), a lot of people can’t exercise outside. And a lot of people don’t even know what to do without equipment or a coach,” Johri said. And sadly, none of these things are being considered by policymakers in Ontario, he concluded.  
  • “There hasn’t been a discussion about a gym model that can be safe and adheres to (COVID-19) guidelines, (nor has) mental health been considered at a policy making level. And we need to do that,” he said.  

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