Exercising at a gym. Photo via Pexels.com

By Joella Hopkins

San Diego took its first step into the dreaded purple tier last week and nerves are running high among businesses like restaurants, retail stores and gyms whose lifeblood depends on people coming through the door.

While community health must be prioritized and businesses have an obligation to do everything possible to keep patrons safe, gyms provide a valuable tool for health and wellness and therefore should be considered essential and allowed to stay open during the pandemic.

Staying healthy means more than just staying free of COVID-19. Maintaining mental and physical health is also critically important, and for many people, gyms provide an avenue to do so. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise helps prevent or manage health problems or concerns, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even many types of cancer.

What’s more, exercise, like healthy eating, may also boost the immune system — something we would all welcome with open arms. Lastly, and importantly, exercise is known to positively impact something else that far too many Americans are struggling with — anxiety and depression.

The prevalence of sleep troubles, lethargy, feelings of hopelessness and other depression symptoms in adults across the country has more than tripled since the pandemic began, according to a new study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Conversely, exercise alleviates symptoms of social withdrawal and contributes to mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative moods by improving self-esteem and cognitive function, according to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

With the holidays around the corner — a notoriously stressful time for many people — and looming question marks about the future state of the pandemic, there is still plenty of room for increased angst.

On the flip side, when we exercise, we release “feel good” endorphins that help us feel motivated, more energetic and happier overall. When our brains are firing all those powerful hormones by working out on a regular basis, we also start to feel an increased sense of well-being and self-esteem. It’s quite remarkable how connected our mind and our bodies truly are.

Now, all that said, gyms should not be conducting business as usual. Limited capacities, social distancing efforts, face-covering requirements and increased sanitation are just a few of the safety measures that should be activated.

What’s more, gym goers can and should do their part by following safety precautions inside and outside of the gym. By taking all the precautions, we can keep gyms open safely, and I encourage every San Diegan to take their physical and mental health seriously by finding the time to exercise, whether at a gym, at home or outdoors.

San Diego is home to beautiful beaches, bays, parks and hiking trails that can also provide an important way to exercise the mind and body. People should find what works best for them and support their friends and families in prioritizing health.

The year 2020 has rocked our society to the core. It’s upended how we live, work and work out. Efforts to keep people safe should also balance the needs to keep people healthy and well overall, and our local gyms are a necessary part of the equation.

Joella Hopkins is vice president of group fitness at EōS Fitness, which operates gyms in San Diego, Encinitas and Oceanside.