Fitness Centers Seek ‘Essential’ Designation

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Fitness centers are seeking to differentiate themselves from other businesses deemed as non-essential as the pandemic enters its second year.

Fox Baltimore reports that clubs are taking a more active role in advocating for themselves, seeking to change the narrative among elected officials.

"I think this whole process from the beginning has been rather educational for just understanding how politicians and regulators, and even local councilmembers and mayors, how they see exercise, fitness and wellness," US Fitness COO Ori Gorfine told Fox Baltimore. "We didn't really expect to be lumped into the same category as bars and restaurants, and even in some cases, amusement parks and casinos."

In the eyes of many in the fitness industry, what they offer goes far beyond simple recreation.

"We all show up and we want to keep people healthy and it's hard when other people either don't recognize that or don't see it that way," Sport & Health and OneLife group fitness director Nathalia Ribeiro told Fox Baltimore. "Maybe some people think a gym is sort of like a luxury item to have, but as we've learned through all this and you know, through multiple articles and experts have said it's, just getting out, and just movement of your body is so important every day. Your sleep depends on it, your health depends on it, and so we're not saying you have to be the person that squats 350 pounds, but it's safe to come in, take a walk, and come see us, that daily movement is so important and just what we're trying to get people to do."

In addition to being an outlet to improve health and wellbeing, gyms and fitness centers believe that they offer preventive health services that could actually help improve outcomes during the pandemic if they had been allowed to operate. 

"When you look at it, for better or worse, we talk about health care, we're oftentimes talking about sick care, we're talking about how do we treat people who have some of these conditions that put them at high-risk,” Gorfine said. “What we don't talk about is preventative care, and I think this crisis, I mean, we're in a public health crisis, that really shines a spotlight on how you take care of yourself physically and mentally, matters.”

Despite having been hit hard by the pandemic, relief legislation didn’t help the fitness industry in the same way it did other impacted sectors of the economy.

Industry associations such as IHRSA are seeking to lobby members of congress to pass targeted relief for the fitness industry in the form of the GYMS (Gym Mitigation and Survival) Act, which would create a fund for impacted businesses in the fitness space to help them keep their doors open. If passed, the GYMS Act would allow fitness businesses grants to cover payroll costs, insurance, rent, utilities and other expenses related to their business.

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