OPINION: Fitness should be considered an essential industry

Apr 27, 2020

So this has been circulating online. It can be found on the Facebook page of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) of the MIMAROPA region. It outlines the list of businesses under a general community quarantine (GCQ) that will be classified as Category I (okay to fully open) all the way to Category IV (will still remain closed).

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There is no word if it is what they will adopt these same guidelines for NCR once general community quarantine is in place here as well. But in all likelihood, the provinces that will go under GCQ on May 1 will be a dry run for when Metro Manila will start loosening restrictions as well.

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If you analyze the list, it is actually pretty well thought out. Unless, that is, you are a leisure and fitness professional, which is lumped under Category IV – non-essentials that are not related to health and food. All Category IV businesses are to remain 100 percent closed.

Wait a minute? Did they just say that fitness is not related to health? It’s right there in the dictionary (the Cambridge English Dictionary, in this case) — physical fitness is the “the condition of being physically strong and healthy.” More specifically, it pertains to “activities relating to keeping healthy and strong, especially through exercise.”

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The very dictionary definition of the word unmistakably connects fitness as one of the foundations of a healthy person.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why we had to lock down most of the country. I understand why we can’t open every sector at once. The threat of COVID-19 is definitely still up in the air, literally. We need to slowly open up essential businesses first, but with restrictions in place that will ensure there is sufficient physical distancing and mask-wearing.

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Under Category 1 are businesses in the food industry. Of course, we need to eat, and we need to have the industries and supply chains necessary to bring food to our table. But presumably Category I businesses will include places like bubble or milk tea shops.

On average, one glass of bubble tea contains 8 teaspoons of sugar and 335 empty calories, according to this 2019 article from Mt. Alvernia hospital in Singapore. If I’m not mistaken, the leading causes of death among those infected with COVID-19 was either age, having a co-morbidity such as diabetes and heart disease, and/or obesity. So if you analyze it just a little, a lot of the food choices people have made may have hastened rate of death in COVID-19 patients.

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On the other hand, I haven’t heard or read a news report about an athlete who has passed away from the disease. A number of NBA players got infected but were all mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic. I’ve seen a couple of news reports of world-class athletes who were in more serious conditions, but none of them died. In short, most healthy people will most likely recover, eventually.

Yes, we can likely spread the coronavirus if we played team sports right now, or if we went back to crowded commercial gyms like before. But I believe there is a way, with proper discussion among concerned stakeholders, to open fitness and leisure facilities while still keeping the risk of infection very low.

A good start would be to limit the number of people in these kinds of facilities at any given time. Gyms can open for personal training, or they could start a by-appointment-only policy. Some of the higher-end gyms and training centers have actually been practicing this even before this pandemic started. And while close contact sports like basketball may not be advisable under our "new normal," think about golf. That’s definitely a sport wherein physical distancing is practiced.

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Plus, sunlight and fresh air have been historically proven to be effective weapons against viruses.

I don’t have anything against milk tea. But if all of these guidelines are for making the so-called new normal work, then we might as well make it a better one. Improving our physical fitness is the one thing that we as humans can do to counteract the lifestyle diseases of our age, and also the effects of debilitating viruses.

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Completely closing down — “100% closed” in their words — the leading industry that helps in improving our physical fitness is not the new normal we should be striving for. It is sending the wrong message to the Filipino people. Fitness, sports, and leisure should be considered essential if we want to keep our population healthy and disease-free.

Julio Veloso is a graduate of the University of the Philippines (Bachelor of Sports Science) and the University of Sydney (Masters in Exercise and Sports Science). He has trained athletes from high school, college, and up to the professional level, including several UAAP and PBA teams.

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