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Moving fitness online during the COVID-19 lockdown

Fitness sector adapting to deliver live virtual classes

In a collective effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 across Australia, social distancing restrictions were put in place by the government. These changes have dramatically impacted our way of life. The closure of thousands of businesses has meant people aren’t able to access their gyms and fitness centres during this time. However, staying indoors and being inactive can have detrimental impacts on both our physical and mental wellbeing.

La Trobe University exercise physiology academic, Doctor Brett Gordon stresses the importance of staying physically active to battle mental health issues during self-isolation.

“[The mind and body] are inextricably linked, it’s almost impossible to have good mental health without having good physical health,” Gordon said.

“We know that by being physically active, it releases a whole host of chemicals within the body that have a direct stimulation on how the brain works and therefore, keeps people in a better mental framework.”

However, without access to their regular fitness centres, people are finding that staying active during the pandemic can be difficult and inaccessible. Directors of dance and fitness studio, Z-fit Studios, Saari Frochot-Chauhan and Dave Chauhan spoke about the importance of adapting their business model online to increase access and support to people looking to stay active.

Functioning as a tight-knit community fitness studio, having a space for members to congregate, share experiences and stay active was paramount.

“For us, community is a big element of our business,” Saari said. “We were like ‘how can we still give that community vibe to people when they’re stuck in their house and we can’t open our doors anymore’.”

“We decided to go with live streaming our classes, that was really important, that they had to be live-streamed because if they’re a pre-recorded class, we can’t create that community.”

However, the impact of social distancing and moving their fitness studio online didn’t come easily. For Z-fit Studios, like for many other gyms and fitness studios, the restrictions have meant a dramatic decrease in their capacity to provide their services.

“With the closure of our business, we stood down all of our staff effective immediately, because we could not see any other way of moving forward. And those people who rely on our wage, we’ve taken them back on board in a casual manner to run online classes,” Saari said.

While some fitness centres have chosen to provide an online platform for their existing client base, others have opted for free classes available to the public to help families stay active during the lockdown. Fitness Australia, a not-for-profit industry organisation, has launched a campaign ‘Keep on Movin’ designed to provide continued access to those looking to stay fit during the pandemic.

“The campaign was created to ensure as many Australians as possible remain active and come out on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis with their health and wellbeing intact,” Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish said.

Operating as a directory, the campaign pairs individuals with local and virtual fitness providers still operating during lockdown.

“As the fitness sector continues to adapt to only delivering virtual classes and one-on-one outdoor workouts, Fitness Australia’s ‘Keep on Moving’ campaign encourages all Australians to access professional fitness guidance and training to ensure they can safely workout to remain active in the comfort of their own home,” Elvish said.

For Z-fit studio’s owners, allowing their community to have the flexibility to attend classes without having to leave their loved ones or organise childcare has proven to be an added benefit of this new change.

“What we’re seeing is a demand in the classes which are rated for everyone. We’re seeing the mums and the bubs and the whole family in the back,” Dave said.

While online fitness classes have provided greater access to methods to stay fit during the pandemic, Dr Gordon recommends that people still spend time exercising outdoors, particularly for their mental health.

“The main difference between exercising inside and exercising outside is really whether you’re getting that vitamin D hit or not,” Dr Gordon said.

“We know that vitamin D is important both for physical health, but for mental health as well. We’re otherwise cooped up inside, so we should be encouraging people to get outdoors and do some exercise.”

Being able to work and study from home has provided a unique opportunity for people to maintain their physical activity status.

“I think one of the major opportunities that we have though, is that all of our daily commute times have just completely disappeared, so for the average person who commutes maybe 45 minutes to the office and then 45 minutes home, there’s an extra hour and a half during the day they could be using to improve their physical fitness,” Dr Gordon said.

However, before undertaking any new fitness regimen, he recommends consulting with a professional first to avoid injuries.

“Although we are losing the ability to go in and talk to somebody face to face, either at the local gym or at an allied health space, a number of people are shifting to the telehealth model,” Dr Gordon said.

“So for people who aren’t regularly active and are looking to use this time to increase their physical activity profiles, it might be a good idea to try and get an initial telehealth consultation with someone like an accredited exercise science physiologist, to at least initiate that process and provide some general health screening and guidelines to start with.”



Nadia Mahroof is a final-year Media and Communications student at La Trobe University, you can follow her on twitter @therealnadimah

Photo: By Kelly Sikkema available ‘HERE’ and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.

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