Brighton, MI

As Mask Requirments Ease, Michiganders Return to Gyms: Correlation Between Obesity, COVID-19 Inspiring New Exercise Kick

Joseph Serwach

434 Days Between Gym Visits? Start All Over Again Right Now
Easing mask rules means more Michigan resident are returning to the gym.Photo by ŞULE MAKAROĞLU on Unsplash.

Gyms are suddenly crowded again, much like the annual “New Year’s rush” when people resolve to “start all over.”

More than 61 percent of Americans said they gained an undesired amount of weight during the 2020 lockdowns citing stress and a lack of exercise. Another 78 percent said the pandemic was a major cause of stress.

The newest research, CDC data and news reports show obese Americans are most vulnerable (and 40 percent of Americans are obese) and most likely to be hospitalized during the pandemic: The best argument for exercise and working out? Becoming more healthy.

Many are returning to their gyms and health clubs. Millennials who rarely went to gyms before the pandemic were some of the first to return.

Others are sharing resolutions like our friend Dave’s plan to “lose 50 pounds in 50 days,” who Monday emailed his new plan to the 300 members of Brighton’s Bonfire Men’s Group.

A chain reaction began late last week: mask rules were lifted, vaccination rates climbed, pandemic cases dropped, and large crowds decided it was time to return to their health clubs (or at least get outside and exercise).

“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.

The rollercoaster of case waves (spikes and crashes) has been intense:

  • One month ago, Michigan hit a 2021 peak, leading America for cases. St. John Ascension Detroit Hospital had 101 pandemic patients on April 15, eight on ventilators.
  • One year earlier, in April 2020, St. John’s all-time COVID activity peaked at 295 cases (75 percent of the hospital’s beds), with as many as 72 patients on ventilators at one time.
  • This morning, the same hospital had just 33 COVID-19 patients with three on ventilators.

Time to shift from counting cases (and taxes) to counting calories

We put off uncomfortable things — like taxes and fear of other uncomfortable or unfamiliar unknowns — dreading danger, things we don’t want to do.
A few changes since my last visit to Hamburg Fitness: the reminders to clean equipment before and after each use .— Photo by Joseph Serwach.

Gyms typically “empty out” in the warmer late spring and early summer months as more people move outside. But 2020 and its aftermath hung over us like a dark cloud. Suddenly, we’re playing catch-up.

In an endless 2020, we kept counting: feeling like accountants counting pandemic cases and risks. The computations continued at tax time when we had to record our 2020 expenditures for the IRS.

But taxes were due May 17 this year (a month later than normal). So once our taxes were filed, we could officially “close the books on 2020” after reviewing every purchase, separating “deductible” purchases from slews of statements and random receipts.

With our taxes finished, I could return to “the club,” aka Hamburg Fitness Center. It turns out, I went a record 434 days, 14 months (plus one week), without going to my gym.

My last visit, the manager confirmed, was March 10, 2020. Finally, I am “back in the old routine,” still on the three-day-a-week plan but building the old habit into a new schedule.

“Start over, my darling. Be brave enough to find the life you want and courageous enough to chase it. Then start over and love yourself the way you were always meant to,” — Madalyn Beck.

We join health clubs out of the need for ritual, routine, and feeling healthy

We go to health clubs to get healthier, and it’s hard to feel “healthy” in a surgical mask. So many stayed away from gyms throughout the pandemic.

I can’t afford the fortune our well-off friends pay to join Detroit’s top health clubs, places like the opulent Detroit Athletic Club. And I’m not out for the cheapest Planet Fitness either.

I prefer clubs with all the amenities to make you feel like you’re doing things you can’t do in your basement, so Hamburg Fitness won my vote for its amenities (pools, pickleball, racketball courts, and a top-notch locker room).

We also join clubs to feel “in the club rich,” and it’s hard to feel “rich” if all the luxurious amenities (like hot tubs and saunas) are shut down (as they were for much of the pandemic). We also join clubs to develop regular rituals and routines, which also went away in 2020.

A year of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns made us crave the rituals of routine, habits, and people we could count on. We didn’t stop going to the gym because of any fear of disease. It was the loss of little rituals and routines (that finally now seem to be back), things like:

  • Arriving at “just the right time” so you can get one of the tall luxurious wooden lockers (on the aisles) reaching from floor to ceiling rather than the numerous, more common half lockers where you stuff all your clothes in a pile.
  • Working out on the machines and weights without being required to wear a mask.
  • Getting in the hot tub and the sauna, sweating away the worries and calories you carried around for no good reason.
  • Showering, using the club hairdryers and scales, and getting dressed again feeling a little fresher, cleaner, and lighter (less weighty even if it’s only a few calories) than when you walked in.

All that went away for a year.

So, like many, I wound up replacing the gym with daily walks and hikes and was astounded to find angry and stressed-out people, and “sidewalk rage” is suddenly a “thing,” even on the most isolated Lakeland Trail in rural Hamburg Twp.

We put off anything that makes us uncomfortable that we aren’t “ready to deal with,” so I put off doing our taxes for months (expecting to get hit with a big liability when it was really just fine). Your worst fears seldom occur (it’s always the unexpected that jolts you more).

Back at the gym, there are more cleaning fluids with reminders to wash everything before and after your workout to purify your machines while improving your body. And that’s fine.

“The human body is the best work of art,” author Jess C. Scott argues, adding, A fit, healthy body — that is the best fashion statement.”
After being nearly empty for most of 14 months, Hamburg Fitness Center is finally getting crowded again as mask mandates ease.- Photo by Joseph Serwach.

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