Urge Inslee to classify Washington fitness facilities as essential and keep them open

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With the expected November 15, 2020 announcement from Washington Governor Jay Inslee to dramatically increase restrictions once again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am urging Governor Jay Inslee to amend his restrictions to classify Washington fitness facilities as essential and allow them to remain open for indoor activity in a cautious and strategic manner.  The effects of widespread prohibition of access to indoor exercise has extreme and severe mental and physical health impacts and potentially increase susceptibility to COVID-19. Ref  While I have much I could say about the overall restrictions, this is one area I feel is vitally important.  Exercise is not a leisure activity, it is absolutely essential for citizens in order to combat the physical and mental effects of the pandemic which will be exacerbated by an increase in restrictions. 

Many people think of crowded, sweaty gyms when they think of fitness centers but if you have been to one recently, you will find a much different environment.  Fitness centers now have limited capacity, reservation requirements, strict sanitization rules and are far more safe than crowded retail or grocery stores with shared carts, items being picked up and put down and narrow isle ways.    

During the summer, Washingtonians had outdoor options for fitness such as walking, bike riding, running and outdoor fitness classes.  With the onset of Washington's fall and winter weather, these options are no longer available and it's a vital part of our state's overall health that citizens have indoor fitness options.

A FEW FACTS ABOUT THE PANDEMIC AND ITS EFFECTS ON PUBLIC HEALTH:

  • The pandemic has a significant and direct impact on the mental health of people in all age groups and people experiencing anxiety and depression, substance abuse and suicidal ideation have significantly increased Ref1 Ref2
  • "Epidemics have been shown to induce general stress across a population and may lead to new mental health and substance use issues" Ref1 "People with substance use disorders are more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications." Ref3
  • "Obesity is an emerging independent risk factor for susceptibility to and severity of coronavirus disease" Ref4
  • "...U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation" Ref5
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A FEW FACTS ABOUT EXERCISE:

  • According to the CDC, "regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health" Ref6
  • "Regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with the COVID-19 virus, a top exercise researcher reports." Ref7
  • This 2018 article highlights the importance for older adults "[Physical Activity ("PA")] PA is a protective factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer and PA is associated with improved mental health, delay in the onset of dementia, and improved quality of life and wellbeing. The health benefits of PA are well documented with higher levels and greater frequency of PA being associated with reduced risk and improved health in a number of key areas" Ref8
  • The WHO also emphasizes exercise: "Regular physical activity benefits both the body and mind. It can reduce high blood pressure, help manage weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and various cancers. It also improves bone and muscle strength and increases balance, flexibility and fitness. For older people, activities that improve balance help to prevent falls and injuries. For children, regular physical activity helps support healthy growth and development and reduce the risk of disease in later life, and through regular activity, children can develop fundamental movement skills and build social relationships.  Regular physical activity also improves mental health and can reduce the risk of depression, cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia - and improve overall feelings of wellbeing." Ref9 

WHY IT MAKES SENSE TO ALLOW FITNESS FACILITIES TO STAY OPEN

  • Fitness facilities provide an essential service that directly combats covid-19 and the mental and physical toll the pandemic takes on individuals.  There are few, if any, other "retail" businesses that can make this claim and yet many are still allowed to operate.
  • During winter in Washington, is not reasonable to expect that people can exercise outside in freezing temperatures, rain and limited daylight.  Washington citizens, including our elderly, need access to be able to exercise indoors, it is absolutely vital for physical and mental health.  For example, the CDC recommends the elderly do "at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity such as brisk walking."Ref10  Without access to an indoor facility, recommendations such as this just aren't possible to follow. 
  • Individuals in a lower socioeconomic status rely on the financial assistance from places like the YMCA in order to maintain the ability to exercise indoors.  Closing indoor fitness facilities takes away the ability to exercise for those that don't have access to fitness equipment or online/tv/internet or other instructional options at home.  As a result, closures unfairly effect the mental and physical health of those in a lower socioeconomic status.      
  • Fitness facilities are currently operating in a manner that is strategic and cautious such as requiring reservations, greatly reduced capacity and strict sanitation practices.  At minimum these practices are comparable, if not much safer, than those of other retail businesses allowed to continue operating that are less essential. 
  • Other businesses such as retail stores are allowed to continue operating indoors at a reduced capacity, even when they have online or curbside options available.  To close something as essential as a fitness facility without any other options but allow a retail store to remain open when there are other options available is confusing, inconsistent and appears discriminatory.   

Please help me in demanding that Governor Jay Inslee allow fitness facilities remain open in a strategic and cautious manner with the option of limited capacity and scheduled times to allow people to combat the long term effects of the physical and mental health impacts of the pandemic.  Indoor access to exercise is absolutely necessary and VITAL to our public health.