Why Didn’t We Hear More About Fitness During the Pandemic?

A large pink cartoon speech bubble with the yellow letters "WTF?"

It’s nice to see fitness mentioned in court.

That happened on April 4 in Alberta, where a group of plaintiffs are challenging the Canadian province’s COVID-19 restrictions. They claim the restrictions violate constitutional rights—and we’ll leave that violent debate completely alone here.

Of special note for gym owners: Plaintiff lawyer Leighton Grey asked Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, why public advice on weight and eating wasn’t offered as a way to help citizens reduce their risk of serious illness due to COVID.

Whether you agree or disagree with vaccines and COVID restrictions, the question is valid—and the answer is important for gym owners.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Every single article on COVID becomes rocket fuel for a debate that usually devolves into a mess of dogma, morality and insults. So I’m going stay well clear of the political issues, and I won’t bother to comment on vaccines and how COVID restrictions affected gym owners and other entrepreneurs.

I won’t even state whether I support Grey and the group of plaintiffs—one of whom is a gym owner.

I’ll just restate Grey’s question more broadly:

Why didn’t we hear more about fitness and nutrition during two years of press conferences and COVID briefings by doctors and health experts all around the world?

The answer is critically important for gym owners—people who make a living by measurably improving health and fitness in relatively short periods of time.

Another question: What if doctors had gone through their briefings on social distancing, masking and all the other “fundamentals” but then closed with a quick note on fitness?

For example: “I’d also encourage people to move regularly, eat more vegetables and reduce intake of highly processed, sugary foods and beverages.”

None of that is controversial or complicated. It’s just basic but sound advice that applies even in the absence of a pandemic.

Fundamentals And … ?

I listened to a lot of COVID briefings over the last two years, and I can almost recite the talking points that were repeated over and over. Wear masks, limit close contacts, stay home if you feel ill, etc. The daily briefings became repetitive and tedious. So doctors and politicians had ample time to offer more assistance and expertise to people, and a quick note about food and movement would have been just the thing.

Scientists know that good food and regular exercise likely reduce the risk of severe COVID symptoms. Researchers also know 39 percent of 15 million people studied gained weight during the pandemic. And people know their habits have changed: In a poll of 1,000 WebMD readers during the pandemic, 68 percent said they were snacking more, 54 percent said they are exercising less, and 54 percent said they have gained weight.

Let’s stop for a minute to recall that less exercise and more weight are linked to a host of health issues, not just severe COVID.

And yet we heard almost nothing about these additional measures—for years.


Sendentary Behavior, Salad and Silence


Here’s a question that might be posed to politicians and medical officers around the world:

“Why was basic but effective advice on fitness and nutrition not provided regularly as a means to help citizens reduce their risk for severe COVID symptoms and avoid overwhelming health-care systems?”

According to CBC.ca, Grey brought this point up with Dr. Hinshaw through a statement that was less than eloquent and far from ideal:

“You never told Albertans they could reduce their risk of COVID-19 by reducing the amount that they ate. … You never said, ‘You know, it would really help you, it would really help your health, if you would get your weight under control.’”

Hinshaw’s comment: “Obesity is a chronic condition. It’s not a condition that can be changed in a short period of time.”

But what about two years? Would that have been enough time to make some progress in the right direction if a literal army of doctors had given fitness and nutrition information to citizens who were tuning in for daily briefings?

Gym owners and trainers know two years is plenty of time. It might not be enough to help a person lose 100 lb., but it’s more than enough to make dramatic, measurable changes to health and fitness. You can literally change your life in two years—this is not hyperbole.

With proper nutrition and exercise over 730 days, you could expect lower levels of body fat, increased muscle mass and strength, greater bone density, greater cardiovascular capacity and endurance, improved blood work and so on.

These changes would all be 100 percent measurable—gyms around the world already have mountains of supporting data, and so do doctors. None of the changes listed above are abnormal or extreme. All are possible on a two-year timeline.

Even if no changes were seen over that two-year period of diet and exercise, at least people wouldn’t have been gaining weight and increasing their risk for severe COVID and other diseases. If we assume that about 39 percent of the population gained weight, staying the same weight might have been considered a win.


A Problem With a Solution

According to the CBC, Dr. Hinshaw reminded Grey that obesity “isn’t just a willpower problem.”

I wholeheartedly agree. But it’s nonetheless a problem that can be solved. Gym owners make a living by providing effective, sustainable solutions.

If experts provide the right advice, the problem can actually be solved by individuals on their own, even if the very best solution involves nutrition and fitness coaching from qualified, experienced trainers who supply programming, movement instruction, healthy habits, motivation, accountability and expertise.

Regardless of your personal politics, we can all agree that the world would be better if COVID didn’t make as many people sick.

So why didn’t we hear more about fitness and nutrition during the pandemic?

Why, indeed?

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