Opinion: Gyms are not dangerous, they may save your life

Alyssa Tushman

When the history of this pandemic is written, it may be said one of the biggest missed opportunities in Michigan came from presumptions about the role of gyms and fitness centers.

Health officials at many levels presumed that because people sweat and sometimes breathe heavily during exercise, gyms would be a deadly place, so Michigan force-shuttered fitness facilities from mid-March through Labor Day.

However, other states around the country reopened their gyms throughout the spring and summer. They quickly realized a modern, well-run fitness center is far safer than many understood. They are rigorously sanitized. People can be safely distanced during their workouts. COVID-19 isn’t spread through perspiration.

People can be safely distanced during their workouts, Tushman writes.

Most facilities have high ceilings, strong air movement systems, and advanced air filtration systems. And gyms are membership-based, which allows them to track member traffic and respond quickly and precisely if contract tracing is needed. In fact, gyms and fitness studios seem better equipped than any other business to provide fast, accurate contract tracing of customers.  

Little wonder that a fitness industry survey found the visit-to-virus ratio at 2,877 COVID-19 ready fitness facilities around the country this summer, based on nearly 50 million visits during the peak of the pandemic, was 0.002% — statistically zero.

As the data emerged that gyms don’t contribute significantly to spreading COVID-19, the national Centers for Disease Control released figures showing roughly 94% of those who died of COVID-19 deaths also had underlying conditions — among them, hypertension and obesity.

It turns out physically fit people of all ages have had better outcomes in this pandemic. Having health and fitness facilities to help people become and remain healthy are not part of the problem; they are a key to the solution.

Shuttering gyms and fitness studios meant eliminating access to fitness trainers and equipment used by nearly 1.5 million Michigan health club members to keep themselves in shape. It meant cutting people off from the community of friends and acquaintances that regular gym patrons look-to for support in their health habit. It meant knocking people off their healthy lifestyle.  

Michigan reopened its gyms around the state, albeit at 25% capacity and with requirements for social distancing and mask use.

The challenge for gyms around the state now is about dispelling the misunderstanding of what a modern gym does and the role of fitness to overall physical and mental health.

The Michigan Fitness Club Association, a statewide unification of top fitness businesses, is working to set and support the standards for safe fitness. We want to lead an overdue conversation about the importance of personal fitness and the role of well-run gyms.

The standards for responsible gym operation were developed by state officials and fitness leaders months ago. Most gyms around the state have already made the physical changes to their facilities, trained their staff and developed COVID-19 response plans.

With these changes in place, it is time to recognize gyms are far from a dangerous destination. Instead, they are quite possibly the place where you can safely go to save your own life — well beyond COVID-19.  

Alyssa Tushman is vice chairwoman of the the Michigan Fitness Club Association and owner of Burn Fitness. The MFCA formed in May to provide voice, support and leadership to Michigan’s fitness industry. Learn more about the MFCA at www.mfcafit.org.