Covid: Reopening gyms quickly 'vital for mental health'

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Pool at Fairwater leisure centre, CardiffImage source, Better Cardiff
Image caption,
Public pools are currently closed in Wales due to being under level four lockdown

Gyms and leisure centres will be reopened as soon as possible when lockdown is eased amid concerns about mental health, a minister has said.

Gyms and leisure centres were among the last businesses to open their doors following the first lockdown last year.

Mental Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she was concerned about the impact of the closures on people's well-being.

However, a Welsh Government advisory group has warned the risk of "superspreading" in gyms was high.

Wales is set to remain under level four "stay home" restrictions - the highest level of measures - for at least another three weeks.

The Welsh Government has not hinted when measures could be eased but has said reopening schools remained its priority.

Previously a number of gym owners had called for fitness facilities to be classed as "essential services" saying they were important for people's physical and mental health.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Gyms were shut in Wales for about five months during the first lockdown

At the Welsh Government Covid briefing on Tuesday Ms Morgan said: "We recognise the amazing difference that keeping fit can have on someone's mental health and that's why we were really reluctant to close down gyms.

"That's why, when we reopen, it will be one of the first things which we will try and consider... gyms are very much in the early opening areas we would like to focus on."

'I'll be first at the doors'

Image source, Dan McTiffen
Image caption,
Dan McTiffen said trying to exercise in his kitchen during the pandemic had been hard

Before the pandemic, going to the gym was a big part of Dan McTiffen's life.

Over the last few months he has been trying to train in the kitchen while his daughter has been eating her breakfast.

"Last year me and my partner would get up, it was light and warmer and we would train outside, but now it is raining, and pitch black - it's a different kettle of fish," he said.

Mr McTiffen said he would book a class immediately when his gym - Ion in Cardiff - reopened, as he felt safe due to the measures in place.

"I'm a better father, I'm better professionally, I feel like I've achieved something that day when I train," he said.

'I had no reason to get out of bed'

Image source, The Yoga Hub
Image caption,
Alecs Donovan said it was hard to hold classes in a studio due to the Welsh Government restrictions last year

Wales rugby player and yoga teacher Alecs Donovan set up her own yoga studio in Cardiff just weeks before the first lockdown, and then had to close its doors.

"I am always so busy, but on the first day of lockdown I realised I didn't have anything to get up for," she said.

Ms Donovan, who runs the Yoga Hub, started online classes and although their popularity has grown, she said some people missed being able to go classes in a quiet space and see friends.

Image source, The Yoga Hub
Image caption,
Ms Donovan has continued training with the Wales team, but says people have find not being able to train with others hard

"It has been really hard, our lifestyles have changed dramatically, so many people are struggling mentally and physically at the moment," said Ms Donovan.

"It is worrying, some of the most positive people have hit a low - exercise makes such a difference, even if it's just being able to go once a week."

'Hard to get motivated'

Image source, Emma Howells Davies
Image caption,
Emma Howells Davies, who coaches out of Trizone Fitness, says it has been hard to train while home schooling

Fitness coach and GB athlete Emma Howells Davies said with events cancelled and months of home schooling, trying to train was difficult.

She said reopening spaces for people to exercise with others, even outside, could be significant in helping people with their mental health.

"When you are feeling really low to get off the sofa is really hard, but if you have a class to go to and see people it really helps," said the coach.

Ms Howell Davies said she was looking forward to the day she could see clients face-to-face again, and hoped measures would be eased for outdoor activities soon.

"We need to make it easy for people to exercise, but the longer we are stuck like this, the harder it will be to get back into good habits," she said.

Media caption,

Two people can now exercise outside together, after women raised safety concerns

What does the guidance say?

Fitness facilities were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in Wales after closing at the end of March, with strict measures in place.

After being open for two months, they closed again, as a 17-day national "firebreak" lockdown began. Days before Christmas they shut once more as current restrictions came into force.

In January, the Welsh Government's Technical Advisory Group said while all fitness facilities were different, the risk was high due to people being in enclosed spaces while exercising and sharing equipment.

The group said while case rates were high, the risk posed by superspreading events was "beyond acceptable levels".

It added when rates had lowered, "reduced occupancy combined with maximised ventilation" would be important in gyms.

Under level four restrictions people can only exercise with one other person outside their household or bubble.

Under the alert level framework, level three should see non-essential stores, beauty salons, gyms and swimming pools reopen.

Exercise rules could also be eased to allow up to 30 people to exercise together outdoors in organised activities, and up to 15 people indoors.

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