'We are walking into a national disaster for health and fitness' – Burnley fitness brothers' plea for action
Jamie and Josh Kennedy, directors at FX Fitness, believe re-opening fitness facilities safely now needs to be a number one priority, with nationwide lockdowns causing unimaginable physical and mental harm to the public.
Speaking last week in the House of Commons, Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham cited the importance of businesses like FX as he called for a parliamentary debate on the safe re-opening of health and fitness centres.
This discussion needs to happen sooner rather than later according to Jamie and Josh who believe the country is spiralling towards an irreversible health and fitness disaster.
"Gyms being closed is more than just a short-term problem," said Jamie. "We will be feeling the effect of this as a nation for years to come.
"For a month or two, this approach made sense, but 10 months since the first lockdown in the UK, it’s now time to consider the bigger picture.
"For millions of people, gyms are more than just somewhere to exercise. They’re the 'third space' the place people use to focus on themselves, and to 'feel good'. We can’t see the effect of taking this away just yet, but if you fit into this group with millions of others, you will absolutely be feeling it by now.
"Gyms and private fitness facilities are still on the Government’s 'black list for high-risk environments, but for us, this decision needs to change, and our focus now must shift to re-opening these facilities as soon as possible, with appropriate adjustments to ensure the benefits of access far outweigh the risks."
A recent study, conducted by UK Active, of more than 55 million visits to fitness facilities between July and October 2020 showed an overall Covid case rate of 1.41 cases per 100,000 visits to gyms.
Jamie and Josh, who recorded zero cases of transmission at FX during the few times they were able to open last year, say this shows that re-opening gyms during the pandemic did not place additional strain on transmission rates.
This, they feel, is principally down to owners of private centres having extremely high levels of control over their environment, especially when compared with the likes of supermarkets and schools.
"In private fitness centres such as ours, we can provide a clean, safe, socially distanced and highly regulated environment where people can ensure they are able to include regular exercise for the benefits of physical and mental wellness," said Jamie.
And it is this ability to provide a space, or programme, for people to enjoy regular exercise that serves as justification for their immediate re-opening.
"Regular exercise has clear benefits to both physical and mental wellbeing that simply cannot be disputed," said Josh. "In fact, a lack of participation in regular exercise is a huge contributing factor in the high rates of obesity and metabolic conditions suffered by huge amounts of people throughout the UK and beyond, in addition to it’s benefits on pain reduction in improving mental health.
"In addition, these people who are struggling to feature exercise as a regular part of their routine may be higher risk should they catch Covid-19.
"Adding to this fact is the simple point that during the summer months, outdoor exercise was far more accessible.
"Summer days allow walking, jogging, and even exercise routines outdoors which are hugely limited by weather conditions (snow, ice, etc) which are highly limited (and overall simply less appealing) than in the summer months.
"We’ve also seen first hand that daily habits have changed dramatically for people during lockdown. Stress levels are elevated, exercise is more of a chore, and their nutrition has become much more difficult to be on top of.
"The additional snacking whilst working from home, the extra few glasses of wine in the evening, and the lack of consistency with meals will all add up and take its toll on health.
"We may not see the data on this just yet, but I’m sure plenty of people reading will have already seen this shift towards unhealthy habits throughout lockdown.
"We all know after a holiday or break for Christmas getting back into a healthy lifestyle is hard. Well now imagine how difficult it will be for people to get back into healthy habits after 10 months without gyms.
"And for many who are 'waiting for this to blow over' so they can get back into healthy routines, the effects of unhealthy habits and a lack of exercise may be disastrous."
FX is a family business through and through.
Jamie and Josh's dad, John – a well-known and highly respected businessman whose death in 2016 shocked the town – helped them start the business 10 years ago.
Mum, Sue, owns Your Yoga Experience, which operates from the same building, and has been closed since the start of November due to lockdown and tier restrictions.
The FX family has grown in recent years to include a dedicated team of personal trainers, and a loyal client base, many of whom see FX as a second home.
It has been a year-long battle keeping their beloved business afloat, and Jamie and Josh are under no illusion of the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
"Financially the sector has been devastated over the previous 10 months and unfortunately it doesn’t look to be slowing down.
"We have worked tirelessly to stay in business by adapting our services to be able to provide fully remote personal training without this there would be no question our business after almost a decade would have closed.
"Our business has been built around helping people, and there was no way we could leave our clients to deal with these challenges alone throughout the pandemic providing as much support as possible within the guidelines.
"The community of people that come to FX need help with their fitness journey and we feel that for many of them FX is the perfect place for them to get fit and healthy. Our clients come to us for many reasons from building fitness levels back up after recovering from serious Illness to young athletes trying to compete in sport.
"The losses for businesses like FX are in the tens of thousands, and with it being a private family company that comes directly out of our pockets.
"At the point gyms re-open we have to try to re-engage with clients who didn’t feel home workouts were an option.
"I’m sure it’s common knowledge that some small, independent fitness centres have decided to ignore the guidelines on closing, and they stand to benefit both financially and with new clients due to ignoring the lockdown rules, while increasing the risks to our community.
"This is hard to watch, and we urge the Government now to offer a solution beyond closing all facilities.
"For us, who have strictly adhered to the rules throughout, it will take us months to rebuild our client base to pre-lockdown numbers, numbers that we have built up over a 10-year period.
"The financial struggles won’t just stop when we re-open, and we will be dealing with this for years to come.
"Now it is more important than ever to have fitness facilities re-opened – more so than almost any other industry sector, as the health of our community should be put first.
"Do the benefits outweigh the risks? With appropriate guidelines from the Government, we think this is a resounding 'yes'."