As states around the country begin relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, gyms have been given the green light to resume operation after almost six months of being closed. Before quarantine, I was a regular at the local YMCA and I was interested to see how COVID-19 has affected the behavior of individuals attending gyms and what has motivated these people to attend gyms during this pandemic? I wasn’t sure what to expect because I hadn’t been inside of a North Carolina gym since they were closed down in March, but I felt like many people would weigh the benefits of working out over the risk of contracting the virus.
My specific subculture of study is the Jerry Long YMCA in Clemmons, NC. Gyms have just begun to reopen in North Carolina, which has been a cause for controversy among many of people. Many believe that reopening gyms now is to preemptive and relaxing restrictions this early could drastically increase the likelihood of a second COVID-19 wave in the winter or spring of next year (Lyu, Wehby, 2020, conclusion). On the other hand, gyms simply cannot afford to remain closed and are taking various safety precautions to combat infection, allowing people to return to gyms (Surplice, 2020, para. 7). Working out at home has provided some normalcy for people, but many want to resume their normal gym activities. The mental health of the country has taken a toll due to the pandemic and physical activity has proven effective in ameliorating the mental well-being of individuals (Maugeri et al., 2020, conclusion). This may serve as a reason and a justification for why many people are eager to get back into gyms.
Observational Data and Analysis:
My first observation was done in the afternoon time slot around 4:00 PM. Masks were required upon entry and each individual had to scan in (contact free), as well as pick up a personal sanitation bottle in order to sanitize the gym equipment before and after each use. The individual spray bottles are a smart idea in order to mitigate the spread that would normally occur through communal spray bottles. The spray bottles were also a crude way of recording the number of people who are in the gym in order to stay under the max capacity according to Phase 2.5 in NC. There were also plexi-glass barriers up for the staff member at the front desk and guest services desk. As I entered the main gym area, the format of the machines was, for the most part, the same as it would be normally. Some of the treadmills and cardio equipment had been moved or spread out, but the free weight area had been untouched. As I look around the gym, the number of people had drastically decreased from the amount before the pandemic. The demographic in the gym had also changed. The gym consisted more of younger cohorts which confirmed my assumptions because older generations are more susceptible to the virus.
For my second observation, I attended the Jerry Long during the morning time period hoping to gain any further insight to the behaviors of gym goers. My immediate observations were that there were primarily only older generations at the gym during the morning session. I was more than likely the only individual under twenty-five in the gym which supported my initial belief that more young people go in the afternoon time slot. As I walked around the gym, it wasn’t hard to tell that the older generations were definitely being more cautious when it came to interactions. The younger cohorts, on the other hand, were less wary of wearing masks and walking near other people. Another thought that I had before entering the Jerry Long YMCA was whether or not individuals in the gym would adhere to social distancing and cleaning procedures of the equipment. After going through two observation sessions, the majority of people adhered to the cleaning guidelines and made sure to clean the equipment after each use. This surprised me because I thought a lot of people in the gym would skip over this guideline, but it turns out most people are cognizant of others when it comes to cleaning. On the other hand, social distancing for the most part is not followed at all. The interactions and distances between gym goers’ mirrors what it was before the pandemic. Social distancing is also not enforced at the YMCA, so there is no real consequence to keep your distance from others.
From my observations, behavior among gym goers has not changed very much since before gyms were closed down in March. There is only so much that can be done to prevent the spread of the virus and, although gym attendees are adhering to the precautions that have been put in place, their actions still resemble the pre-pandemic behavior. Although the behaviors of individuals using the gyms are not that different, people still choose to attend them, which I believe can be attested to the mental health benefits that physical activity provides. Physical activity has been linked many times to increases in mental well-being and I think numerous amounts of people are willing to take the health risk of attending the gym for this reason. Many older generations, despite that fact that they are at higher risk, will also choose to return to the gym for the pure health benefits that exercise can provide in association with mental and life longevity. As of now, gyms haven’t been linked to any further spreading of the virus so they may remain open for good and serve as a vital aspect in the healing of the country and world.
Lyu, W., & Wehby, G. L. (2020). Community use of face masks and covid-19: Evidence from a natural experiment of state mandates in the US. Health Affairs, 39(8), 1419–1425. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818
Maugeri, G., Castrogiovanni, P., Battaglia, G., Pippi, R., D’Agata, V., Palma, A., Di Rosa, M., & Musumeci, G. (2020). The impact of physical activity on psychological health during Covid-19 pandemic in Italy. Heliyon, 6(6), e04315. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04315
Surplice, P. (2020). Has the pandemic killed the gym? Centre for Brexit Studies Blog. https://centreforbrexitstudiesblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/20/has-the-pandemic-killed-the-gym/
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