Lori Deemer, M.D., concludes that social isolation, decreased physical activity, and loss of function—all factors of the pandemic—are leading North Americans to an unhealthy future.
To counter the misconceptions and negative news—and mark health clubs as essential businesses—IHRSA is meeting with medical experts to get their view on the matter. This article is the third installment in a series in which we will share expert opinions from medical, science, and public health professionals focusing on:
- exercising safely in clubs during a pandemic,
- how gyms play a significant role in keeping people healthy, and
- the overall health benefits of exercise.
Most recently, we discussed these topics with Lori Deemer, M.D., medical director of Hancock Wellness Centers in Hancock County, IN, and board member of the Medical Fitness Association, for her professional testimony.
Physical Activity Is an Intervention
“Most people may think that ‘exercise is good,’” says Deemer. “But if they knew how effective exercise is at preventing, treating, and reversing diseases—such as diabetes and heart disease, even improving cancer survival outcomes—we in the industry may be in a position to gain more support from public officials.”
How do we fix this?
“We have to lobby our leaders…persistently and consistently, until [physical activity] is given the priority it deserves,” she says.
Deemer says she believes that physical activity is an intervention that local health officials and healthcare providers need to prioritize because of the ever-increasing healthcare costs and the U.S. population’s health worsening each year.
According to data from The Commonwealth Fund, compared to 10 other high-income countries, the U.S. spends nearly twice as much on healthcare but has the lowest life expectancy. Americans also have the highest amount of chronic disease and an obesity rate that almost doubles any other country included in the brief.
Deemer says that physical activity is “extremely essential to both mental and physical health.” Persistent activity, Deemer says, allows people to:
- remain physically independent,
- stay connected socially,
- improve overall vitality, and
- strengthen immune function.
Quarantine Comes with Risk
Quarantine and social distancing may help contain the spread of COVID-19. Still, Deemer warns, “This translates to less movement, and even just within a few months, a significant increase in debility and decline in overall health.
“We have to weigh the risk of COVID-19 infection with the risks associated with social isolation, decreased physical activity, and loss of function.”
Since quarantine restrictions came into play, there has been much discussion on the implications associated with isolation. From April to June 2020, Americans’ anxiety and depression symptoms escalated from the same period the previous year. In its Household Health Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:
- Approximately 30.7% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety disorder, up from 8.1% in 2019.
- Roughly 25.1% of participants reported symptoms of depressive disorder, up from 6.5% in 2019.
- About 35.6% of partakers reported anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder symptoms, up from 10.9%.
“I believe we will continue to learn about the negative impacts that the social isolation, necessary during this pandemic, has had over the coming months and years,” says Deemer.
Deemer notes that physical activity improves:
She says, “If you could put exercise in a pill, it would have the effects of at least 14 different types of medications we prescribe for multiple ailments!”
Deemer’s statement is not far-fetched. The authors of an article in the British Journal of Pharmacology state, “Exercise is so beneficial for health that it should be considered as a drug.”
Moving Forward In a Pandemic
Deemer emphasizes that everyone should be following basic hygiene protocols when going out in public. She labels them as “the three Ws”:
- Watching our distance,
- Wearing our masks, and
- Washing our hands.
As for visiting a gym, “The risk is overall low,” says Deemer. “If thorough safety protocols are being enacted.”
Deemer brings us to another point we’d like to make.
We’re noticing a trend in our discussions with medical experts, explicitly relating to risk mitigation guidelines. Health club guidelines from both Robert Sallis, M.D., and Greg Degnan, M.D., are almost identical to Deemer’s, including:
- Maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between patrons while exercising,
- Staff wearing masks at all times, and patrons wearing masks when not engaging in vigorous activity, and
- Diligent cleaning and disinfecting measures.
Even more compelling, health clubs follow these protocols—and have been for months in some states—yet, the public’s perception of these facilities is still not optimistic. However, we can’t continue to live in isolation and wait for a vaccine to bring life back to “normal.”
Deemer’s advice for everyone—and what she follows herself—is, “If you are not having symptoms, have not had recent known exposure, and you are practicing the three W’s diligently, it is best for your overall health to be physically active and live life as normally as possible.”
She adds, “Continue to move, engage in relationships, get good sleep, practice self-care, and eat a well-rounded, ‘plant-strong’ diet.”
Sami Smith is IHRSA’s Communications and Public Relations Assistant. On a typical day, she delivers communications and creates content for IHRSA’s advocacy efforts, while working to shape IHRSA and the fitness industry’s public image on multiple platforms. Outside of the office, you can find her traveling to new areas, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is a global community of health and fitness professionals committed to building their businesses and improving their communities’ health and well-being. The mission of IHRSA is to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry, and to provide its members with the benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members (health clubs and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and industry suppliers) are dedicated to make the world healthier through regular exercise. For more information visit www.ihrsa.org.