Physical activity has been identified as the best way to help the National Health Service during the Covid-19 pandemic, boosting gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres in their push to remain open amid a surge in new infections.
After being shut down between March and July - and then only coming back after pubs and restaurants - the leisure sector believes that it has proved that it can operate in a way that sufficiently mitigates the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Warnings, however, of a potential major second wave of Covid-19 infections has led to fears of further new measures. Details are not expected until Tuesday and there is concern within the sector that the recreational return of some sports and activities could be curtailed. Indoor sports are expected to be particularly scrutinised, as are outdoor activities that attract large numbers of participants and close contact.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston, however, specifically addressed the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s annual conference on Monday and stressed the importance of keeping the sector open.
“We need sport now more than ever - sport and physical activity are crucial to both our physical and mental health - both of which have been tested by this pandemic,” he said. “We need the country to get match-fit to beat Covid. Too many facilities have been unable to open. We need them to open.”
Ukactive, which represents public and private gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres, produced research last week which suggested a “very low” prevalence of Covid among gym users.
Further new research by Savanta, commissioned for ukactive, to coincide with National Fitness Day on Wednesday, found that 69 per cent of people want to do more physical exercise in light of Covid-19.
Almost a fifth of respondents said that being physically active was the best way to support the NHS, with more than half ranking exercise in the top three ways to help.
“Physical activity has never before played such a vital role in our lives, as we continue to face the health implications of the pandemic,” said Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the chair of ukactive.
“By being more active, we not only have the chance to improve our mental and physical health, but also to give ourselves a better chance against COVID-19 and reduce the burden on the NHS.
Professor Greg Whyte, who is the chair of the ukactive scientific advisory board, said that “the importance of immune and metabolic health in reducing our risk” of Covid-19 was becoming increasingly clear.
“Our sports clubs, gyms, parks and leisure centres help form the fabric of our society: supporting community cohesion, improving wellbeing, reducing loneliness and anti-social behaviour and boosting productivity in the workplace,” added Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of Sport England.
Under the banner, ‘Fitness Unites Us’, the day will see thousands of Covid-secure free events and activities take place in parks, leisure centres, gyms, schools and workplaces across the UK, as well as online through providers’ digital platforms, encouraging people to try new activities and start new fitness habits.