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Gyms Are Essential and Must Reopen Too

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As a teacher who just started the school year, I am one of the essential workers getting used to this “new normal” in our state. We are all adjusting because COVID-19 has gone on longer than any of us first imagined. A key part of what we are all experiencing is the need for wellness — physical and mental. I see that within myself, my students, their parents and my colleagues.

My gym shut down in March, and before the pandemic took over our lives, I used to work out five times a week. My gym was the place where I could go to keep up my physical strength and release stress. When it shut down, I, like many people, stopped working out. Six months later and the closure of gyms has meant six months of physical inactivity for myself and others.

In California, studies have shown that physical inactivity is highest among Latino residents, at 27%. And while the obesity rate in California is 25.8%, that number jumps to 33.3% for Latinos. This is a major problem for everyone in our community, from our youth to the elderly.

I relied on my gym because it provided a workout I could afford. I do not own a treadmill or other gym equipment at home. I’ve looked into it, but equipment and in-home programs are really expensive. Not everyone has the money, time or space to build their own home gym. I know most of the families in my community don’t, including many of the families at the school where I teach.

I’ve tried exercising outside, but there were many days when temperatures reached over 100 degrees, making it unbearable even in the shade. Then, fire season started. Some days the air quality was so bad that just leaving my house to go to work made me feel like I was breathing in ash. I still check my phone and it shows we have “unhealthy air quality” on most days.

If there are no safe places to exercise outside in our neighborhoods, where are we supposed to work out? Again, if this lockdown had only been a couple of weeks, it wouldn’t be a huge issue, but what if this goes on for several more months or all of next year?

The answer shouldn’t mean going to a different county to work out, as that is not realistic, nor could many people take the time to do so. If we all start traveling to different places to exercise, wouldn’t that continue the spread of COVID-19, which is the whole reason everything shut down in the first place? If our communities reopened gyms as they did in June, we would have safe places to work out while staying within our neighborhoods.

When the gyms were open in the summer, I went every week, and it felt good to be active and healthy again. I never felt unsafe because my gym required masks and social distancing, and several machines were shut off, maintaining separation between each person working out. I used my gym’s app to check how busy it was before I went, so I didn’t have to wait in line outside or be around as many people. 

The craziest part is that my gym is closed when it is a large, well-ventilated facility and allows people to be far apart. Meanwhile, the liquor store down the street is allowed to open in a building a fraction of the size, with a lot of people walking around the aisles. Shopping in there or in a crowded grocery store seems more unsafe to me!

I completely understand why we need to be safe while we wait for a vaccine. I’m not saying everything should reopen right away. What I am saying is that if this continues for another year, we need gyms to reopen so we can work out and stay both physically and mentally healthy.

Hopefully, folks will soon have the option to go to a gym, especially those who don’t have other means to stay fit and support their physical and mental well-being.

Los Angeleno