Reopening the economy

Published June 17, 2021, 7:00 AM

by J. Albert Gamboa

The National Capital Region (NCR), our country’s engine of growth, is gradually coming back to life after three months of virtual isolation inside the “NCR Plus” bubble. It seems like déjà vu if one recalls the early months of the pandemic last year, when the Philippine economy plunged to the lowest level since World War II.

One of the sectors most affected by the health and economic crisis is the fitness industry. For five months in 2020 and three months in 2021, gyms and fitness centers were closed due to a perception that they are super-spreaders of COVID-19.

But this notion has since been debunked by the Philippine Fitness Alliance (PFA) composed of major industry players such as Gold’s Gym, Anytime Fitness, Slimmers World, Fitness First, UFC Gym, and Celebrity Fitness. During the months that they were open, PFA gyms had approximately 600,000 member check-ins and they have recorded zero coronavirus transmissions to date.

PFA represents the largest chains of fitness centers in the country and thousands of their workers have lost their jobs or reduced their working hours. In the Philippines, members of gyms comprise about 9% of our population. Therefore, close to a million Filipinos indefinitely paused their workout regimen during those months of total lockdown.

Fitness has evolved over the last decades to the extent that there is widespread public awareness of its being essential to the health of individuals and organizations. So if it is of prime importance, why is the gym industry the last business to reopen when community quarantine is relaxed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases or IATF? Why is it considered recreation when exercise is already an accepted modality of preventive medicine?

While the IATF has allowed barber shops, salons, and other personal service businesses to reopen, fitness centers have always been left out. According to the PFA, “we believe that we are actually a partner in boosting the immunity of people. Now if the government really insists that we are a public threat, can our industry be given support or concessions as a distressed industry?”

Mark Ellis, country manager of Evolution Wellness, said: “As vaccination campaigns across the country starts, fitness also plays a big part in boosting the effectiveness of the shot. A recent study by Glasgow Caledonian University has found that a person who is active is 50% more likely to have higher antibodies after a vaccine, in comparison to someone who is inactive. Being physically active strengthens the immune system, reduces the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious disease by more than a third.”

Ryan Cheal, chief operating officer of Anytime Fitness Asia, weighed in: “Fitness is essential because it promotes a fulfilling routine, which improves your overall well-being. Getting enough exercise contributes to short-term and long-term improvements on your mood, sleep, mental and physical health. Exercise strengthens the heart, the muscles, improves flexibility and thus protects you from potential illnesses and diseases.”

Desiree Moy, president of Slimmers World, opined: “In the fitness industry, health has always been and will always be our number one priority. We are taking every precaution to make sure our clients feel safe in our premises.  Along with proper nutrition and rest, fitness has been key to ensuring the overall wellness of our body and mind.”

Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit, chief executive officer of Gold’s Gym Philippines, gave her two cents’ worth: “Being safe is a personal responsibility as well as a social one. You have to always act as if you have the virus (in case you are asymptomatic) or as of the one nearest to you has it. You have to be guarded and always protect yourself. As little as thirty minutes of a good exercise done regularly will help boost our immunity and prevent illnesses. Experts advise that it is best to limit your time inside an enclosed space to less than an hour. With all our safety precautions and the individual’s mindfulness of his own safety precautions, the gym like any other place can be a safe venue for normal life to proceed.”

PFA intends to represent the gyms’ combined interests in protecting the industry. While its role for now is to help each other successfully navigate this unprecedented pandemic, it will focus on education and public workshops in the future. Their members’ battle cry is “Reopen Philippine Gyms: We Are Part of the Solution.”

J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly FINEX Digest magazine and the monthly FINEX Focus newsletter. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin.

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