Why the fitness and leisure sector should be classed as essential.

This week we saw the UK reach 1.4 million covid cases, a number we’d all hoped not to reach. We also saw an intervention from the former Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies who in an interview with The Times talks about a “direct correlation between obesity and Covid-19”, with people classed as obese being 48% more like to die from Coronavirus. With the announcement of a potential vaccine we need to remember the importance of physical activity, alongside the vaccine, for the best possible chance of success. Covid affects your heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, organs that can all be made stronger through exercise.

And it’s not just COVID-19 that exercise benefits. Many diseases require rehabilitation: cancer patients, cardiac patients, neuro patients and more. Macmillan Cancer Support recently reported 50,000 undiagnosed cases of cancer during the first lockdown, a figure that is projected to break 100,000 by next year. But the damage caused by lockdown does not end with missed diagnosis, because the closure of gyms and leisure facilities also has an impact.

“In a typical flu season about 7,000 people a year in the UK die of seasonal flu. And, in a bad flu year, which often goes quite unremarked, it can be north of 20,000 people dying.” – Professor Chris Whitty, BMJ, 2020

Closing gyms and leisure centres in the first lockdown earlier this year saw an increase in other health issues, mental health problems, and obesity to name a few. The data shows that as of October 20th, following 50 million visits to gyms, only 2.88 cases per 100,00 visits were reported testing positive.

Gyms and leisure centres have spent thousands of pounds redesigning their layouts to meet social distancing measures and abide the government guidelines, and it’s clear, from the data that these facilities have outstanding safety records.

To protect the NHS and our health services we need to recognise that exercise and fitness centres are essential services for the nation to build the immune system, rehabilitate and reduce other health implications.


The BMJ Interview: Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, on COVID-19. BMJ 2020;371:m4235.

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