On October 9th, the Ford government announced the mandatory closure of all gyms and indoor fitness centres in the Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa regions. The closures were a result of the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, as Ontario hit a daily record high of more than 900 cases. Although it was a necessary step in slowing the spread of Covid-19, students’ mental health is likely to suffer from the lack of access to fitness facilities. 

The closure of gyms may exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses or weaken one’s mental health. According to a study by Ph.D. student Julie Morgan from the University of Adelaide in Australia, suddenly stopping regular physical activity can increase depressive symptoms. 

Students who regularly use fitness facilities are likely to be most affected. According to an article on Help Guide, physical exercise enhances both physical and mental energies, relieves stress and anxiety, and improves mental well-being through the release of endorphins. Due to these positive effects, the sudden loss of accessibility to gym facilities will harm those dependent on a regular gym routine.

There are numerous dangers to the sudden reduction of physical activity. A study on athlete endurance at the University of Maryland by Alfonso Alfini and his colleagues, found that after just 10 days without exercise, athletes showed less blood flow to certain regions of the brain such as the hippocampus—which contributes to one’s memory and learning functions, among others. Additionally, the study showed how the body’s ability to take in oxygen decreased by seven per cent just three weeks without cardio training. 

Consequently, blood pressure will jump to a heightened level, body fat will increase, and bones will weaken in the long-term, according to Cheat Sheet. Regarding mental health, individuals may experience a shift in their mood because they are no longer releasing endorphins. Hence, many may feel irritable and fatigued. These effects are why we see so many community members feeling angered and upset by the closure of facilities that are crucial to their mental and physical health. Prior to the closures, Michael Hoglund, the co-owner of a Toronto F45 gym, told the Toronto Sun, “If there’s another lockdown, we will see mental health issues skyrocket.”   

Following Premier Doug Ford’s gym closures announcement, many turned to social media to voice their concerns about the consequential effects of a return to a modified Stage Two On Instagram, many gym-goers have started a hashtag, #KeepGymsOpen, calling on the government to reassess their decisions. 

In a discussion with Emily Sevcik, a second-year criminology student at UTM, she told The Medium, “The gym is my mental escape and my happy place. It helps me keep healthy, mentally and physically. Ever since it closed, it’s been a struggle [to find] an alternative. However, I still find ways to keep healthy and active, like working out at home or spending more time outside in the fresh air.” Although the government’s actions have upset many, it is crucial to do what we can do to maintain some physical fitness amid these uncertain times. 

Listed below are recommendations for maintaining your health and physical fitness during the challenging weeks ahead as we collectively wait for a loosening of restrictions or alternative fitness options. 

  • Get outside. Take in the beautiful fall colours and hike with a friend or family member (that is a part of your safe social bubble!) 
  • Try an at-home yoga class. YouTube has some great yoga instructors that post follow-along videos for free. 
  • Follow @UTM_Athletics on Instagram. The UTM Athletic Department posts some great fitness challenges and programs to follow, such as a six-week running plan to build toward running five kilometres. 
  • Many gyms, such as the YMCA, are offering at-home workout classes taught by live fitness instructors. Be sure to check out your local gym to see what they are offering for at-home situations.

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