Since the outbreak of coronavirus in January 2020, the general public has become accustomed to and familiar with illness, words, and phrases that they never thought they would. The majority of people now have a heightened awareness of different types of health issues that many in society face daily but aren’t particularly well known to the masses.
It quickly became clear that people needed to stay indoors to take care of not only themselves but of people with health conditions that make them more susceptible to the serious consequences of catching the virus. The majority of these people who needed protection had respiratory issues which means their breathing would be even more affected by COVID-19 than if an average healthy person was infected.
As the situation begins to return to normal in some parts of the world, now could be a great opportunity to make group fitness more accessible and better catered to people who find exercise more physically demanding than most. Outdoor exercise is experiencing a surge in popularity. One form of exercise that hasn’t been able to return properly in many areas yet is indoor group exercise classes. In time they will, but could they be made more accessible or be diversified?
Why is exercise more challenging for those with respiratory issues?
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus which means it attacks the breathing capabilities of the infected individual. For people with issues such as asthma, the most common respiratory defect, exercise is already a complicated situation without introducing the risk of catching COVID-19.
Millions of people have launched themselves into a health and fitness routine in the wake of the pandemic because they suddenly found themselves with more time on their hands. Asthma sufferers may feel the same, but the idea of joining an intense group class can be daunting for several reasons.
One of the sure-fire ways to spread coronavirus is to do an indoor exercise class. Multiple people expelling respiratory droplets at a significantly higher rate than normal can lead to mass infections. The droplets are also likely to travel further than the usual six feet that respiratory droplets tend to travel.
Whilst local regulations would have to allow the class to take place anyway, the idea of being in close quarters with unvaccinated people might be too much to handle. Furthermore, being part of a class where other people are not at risk of extreme breathing difficulties or attacks could lead to extreme anxiety and a failure to complete the session that has likely been paid for.
Indoor exercise, in general, can be problematic for asthmatics and can lead to exercised induced asthma (EIA) attacks. If working out indoors with a personal trainer, people usually find symptoms of an EIA start to be noticed about 15 minutes after the session has ended.
Physical exercise is very beneficial for asthmatics as when done in the correct quantities and conditions, it can help prevent vicious attacks. Raising the heart rate regularly boosts lung power, and it also supports the immune system to help fight colds and viruses, which are a major trigger for over 80% of people with asthma.
How can these group classes be made more inclusive?
Gym providers would be wise to start offering exercise classes that are exclusively catered to people with respiratory problems or any other immune-system difficulties. This will ensure that participants don’t feel pressured by the performance levels of others in the class as they know everyone in the room is sympathetic to whatever their issue may be.
These classes could be outside when the weather permits so that ventilation is improved. The timing is important too in relation to asthma. Asthma attacks are more common early in the morning and late at night, meaning mid-morning and afternoon slots would suit the target audience much better.
Exercising with other people can be a deeply intimidating task for anyone, but even more so when an issue not visible to the naked eye means the exercise affects you in a different way to everyone else. The COVID-19 pandemic could provide a valuable opportunity to make health and fitness more accessible and inclusive for people from all walks of life.
Euan Burns is a features editor at Origym Centre of Excellence, which provides high-quality personal training courses and packages.