Here we go again. As the number of COVID-19 cases has risen back to critical levels across the country, gyms are seeing their capacities reduced or being closed altogether. Limits have been placed on team sports at the recreational and competitive level. And while not all provinces have put the brakes on sports and certain other types of physical activity, the risk of another coast-to-coast shutdown is high.
Back in March, when gyms closed for the first time, spring was right around the corner. Days were getting longer and the weather warmer, which made it easier to find ways to do a workout outdoors . This time around, it’s dark when we roll out of bed and dark again when we sit down to dinner, which means it’s less inviting at either end of the day to get in a workout.
With more obstacles in their way, Canadians are likely to go back to the more sedentary habits they adopted in the spring, when — according to data collected by ParticipACTION, the national organization whose mandate is to get Canadians moving — people were more likely to watch television or sit in front of a computer screen than exercise.
When it comes to the consequences of COVID-19, a lack of exercise may seem trivial, but for many people exercise isn’t just a boost to their physical health; it also improves their mental health — a theory that’s supported by a growing body of evidence. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Some people actively seek out exercise as a therapeutic option to improve mental health, be it at the suggestion of a medical professional or by virtue of the good feeling that often accompanies a good sweat. Others are so used to their exercise routine that they go into a funk when their workout schedule is disrupted. Then there are those who have very defined goals that are at risk of being abandoned without access to a training facility, which adds to their stress level.
Also worth mentioning is the loss of social connection, which can be felt by anyone who plays team sports or prefers to sweat in a group versus on their own. Beer-league hockey, soccer and basketball players, curlers, masters athletes, gym rats and others of all ages who play organized sports are at risk of being negatively affected emotionally and physically by the loss of their exercise routine.
Several studies have emerged looking at the mental health effects of the change in physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of which came to a similar conclusion: those who let