Ontario Fitness Facilities And COVID-19 Protocols
By Kim Dunwoody
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, fitness facilities in Windsor have experienced two long term blanket closures.
The initial closure lasted five months, spanning from March to August 2020, and the second began on December 14, 2020 and continues throughout January 2021, with no re-openings on the horizon.
In Ontario, as of January 7, 2021 there have been over 205,000 reported cases of COVID-19, with over 4,800 resulting in death (roughly 2.3%).
Almost a year into this pandemic, it has been proven that the presence of lifestyle-related chronic disease strongly predicts mortality from COVID-19 infections. More simply put, those who are dying from these infections have underlying health issues related to their lifestyle choices.
Healthy individuals, with average or better health biomarkers (resting heart rate, blood pressure, body fat percentage, etc.) are not experiencing deaths from COVID-19.
Ontario fitness facilities play a vital role in the maintenance of preventative health, both mental and physical, in their communities, and have a direct role in the improvement of these health biomarkers.
In an overview of 50 Windsor CrossFit gym members between the ages of 17 to 68, the average resting heart rate was 53.9bpm. This hits the 90th percentile for the Canadian national average, which is 69bpm. As stated previously, a lower resting heart rate is a strong defence against mortality from COVID-19 infections.
I firmly believe that a collaboration between government officials, policy makers, public health representatives and fitness facility leaders would result in the best-case defense of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With clear indications that gyms play a pivotal role in preventative health care, this seems the most logical solution for a well-rounded approach to the prevention of COVID-19.
I implore that groups influencing the COVID-19 protocol development and decision making take another look at the current standings and reconsider their decision to keep fitness facilities closed during this time.
Ontario fitness facilities have been proven a safe and secure area, with minimal transmissions of COVID-19. Although contact tracing currently has some limitations, recent data released by Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table states that gyms account for less than 5% of all outbreaks in “hot spots” — an outbreak being defined as two or more cases.
Locally, facilities have done an exceptional job of keeping their gym members safe.
In an overview of 10 “box style” gyms and studios in Windsor, zero COVID-19 transmissions occurred in the 18 to 20 weeks of operation allowed between the months of August and December 2020.
These 10 gyms accumulated 78,163 total visits throughout that time frame, with zero transmissions of COVID-19 reported. The extensive safety protocols set in place were effective in reducing transmission of the disease, and would continue to be effective today if they were allowed to be implemented once more.
The social distancing protocols put in place to protect people from COVID-19, and to limit stress on our healthcare system have created a different issue entirely. Isolation from the pandemic policies have had severe effects on the mental health of our community.
According to the Government of Canada website, physical fitness is a key component, and often the primary prescription, in the management of mental health: “Physical activity/exercise is regarded as an important self-management strategy for individuals with mental illness . . . It is essential that health professionals recommend physical activity/exercise to their patients, discuss barriers and support their engagement.”
(Louise Pelletier) Leamington/Tecumseh-based Social Worker, Katelynn Thibert, (BSW, MSW, RSW), can speak to this even more clearly: “As a Social Worker I utilize evidence-based practice to guide my services. The research is clear; exercise and fitness is a proven intervention in mental health care, supported in whole with positive support and a healthy lifestyle. Fitness facilities offer legitimate services to members to manage their holistic physical and mental health through community, accountability, and exercise.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will be at large for the foreseeable future. Even with the implementation of different vaccines, it will be a timely task to secure the immunity of the population. It is the responsibility of policy makers to consider the impact and sustainability of their protocols, especially in the event that there is long-term disruption to daily life.
With Ontario fitness facilities being a safe place to operate, and playing such a heavy hand in preventative health (both physical and mental), it is logical to combine forces and create an improved, well-rounded approach to COVID-19 prevention.
Pete Shaw, Co-Owner, CrossFit NCR wraps up my commentary with the following: “Physical fitness, mental health, nutrition, stress levels and social wellbeing are all major components of regular gym operations and are all underlying factors of healthy individuals. Healthy individuals fight off COVID-19 and other illnesses much easier than those who are ill. It is with this logic that we ask for help in supporting a collaboration between government, public health and leaders in the fitness industry in order to keep our communities healthy, and our businesses open.”
The content in this article was supplied by Kim Dunwoody, Co-Owner and Head Coach of Windsor CrossFit. Kim is currently in the process of starting an initiative with policy makers and members of parliament to work together in the fight against COVID-19. When local gyms work TOGETHER with policy makers and politicians, it could help people survive if they contract COVID-19. Kim has sent out a letter to local Windsor-Essex MPs, doctors and policy makers to help her industry and local residents.