When the sky was still dark, but starless, when it was still quiet, too early for chirping birds, Hannah Plummer started her day. She approached Scarborough Beach where the waves were invitingly crashing the shore as the tip of the sun began to show on the horizon. Joined by her teammates at the Scarboro Surf Life Saving Club, training would begin. After a strenuous hour and fifteen minute session, Plummer would make a quick stop at home before heading to the gym to participate in a fitness class.
But Plummer’s daily exercise didn’t end there. As the late afternoon approached, she would eagerly arrive at Bayswater Waves Recreation Centre ready to dive into her two hour swimming training session. This is what Plummer’s day used to look like, before COVID-19 struck, gyms closed, recreation centres were forced shut and group gatherings were banned. Many people, including Plummer, are struggling to maintain their fitness levels and adapt to losing their daily activities while self-isolating.
A recent study by sportswear brand, Garmin, recorded data through sports watches and devices around the world. The study revealed that the number of daily steps has decreased from an average of 8700 steps per day to 7700 and the number of treadmill runs has also gone down as a result of gym closures. Further, on May 26 a Fitness Australia spokesperson said that “the COVID pandemic has had a negative impact on the wellbeing of Australians, with indications like an increase in alcohol consumption and an increase in calls for support to services like Lifeline and Beyond Blue.”
Plummer said: “I have lost a lot of motivation through this period of time as I had a very structured routine of what I had to do and at what time.” She believes a major contributor to her lack of motivation is not being able to be in an environment where her coach can direct and encourage her.
Further, the social aspect itself was a driving force for Plummer as she said exercise was a “ perfect way to meet new people and when you make friends in a fitness group, it keeps you motivated.” The social side of exercising has also been taken away as social distancing measures and gathering restrictions were implemented.
However, Plummer has attempted to adapt to the circumstances and make-do with the resources she has around her. “I try to go and paddle down at the river where I normally wouldn’t go,” she says. Her family has also joined in on these outdoor adventures and she says paddle boarding is something they will continue once isolation is over. Plummer has also created a home gym where she now works out each morning and uses the Sorrento shark net as a guide for a distance to swim, now that she cannot swim in a pool.
At the beginning of isolation, National Premier League soccer player Alex Silla was determined to work out and continue to replicate his healthy lifestyle. However, as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, Silla’s enthusiasm began to deteriorate. From intense soccer training sessions three times a week and a 90 minute game every Saturday, to a casual kick of the footy with friends at the park, it was hard for Silla to maintain motivation. A key factor that contributed to this was the uncertainty of the situation. “With little information provided about when the soccer season will recommence and what the season will look like, it was difficult to stay task focused and keep up with my exercise routine,” he says.
With the league currently suspended due to COVID-19, Silla has also had to change his usual exercise routine. “My usual exercise routine would involve me interacting with lots of people, but because of social distancing and gathering restrictions I’ve had to limit the number of people I exercise with and do most of my sessions individually,” he says.
Silla has tried to incorporate a daily run or walk into his routine which appears to be quite popular among people across the world as the Garmin study revealed that walking tagged workouts have increased by 40 per cent. Although he is trying is best to stay active, he can’t wait to get back to the game and train with his teammates. “Yes I love playing soccer, but it’s made more enjoyable by the people I play it with,” he says.
Both of these athletes believe their fitness levels have dropped. Plummer said she feels she has lost upper body muscle, has noticed weight gain around her waste and has lost strength and speed in the water. However, they are still getting up each day and doing some kind of physical activity. Studies show that this is the case for many people around the world. A survey by Fitness Australia revealed that 86 per cent of people have continued to exercise since gyms closed and 36 per cent of those people are walking or running to keep active. According to the Garmin study, indoor cardio workout exercises have gone up by 150 per cent, yoga tagged workouts have increased by 50 per cent and virtual cycling activity has increased by 63 per cent.
However, according to Fitness Australia research, people are dreaming of the day their local gyms re-open their doors. The study shows that 85 per cent of people are determined to get back to their usual routines once gyms are allowed to reopen and 54 per cent are willing to keep their memberships at their local gyms.
As it appears, some people have not had an overly positive experience with health and fitness during self-isolation. However, for former Wildcat and competitive dancer Sade Rose, this has not been the case. Rose struggled with being under weight for many months leading up to isolation but found it a perfect time to focus on getting her health back on track.
Rose has found motivation in wanting to be fit and healthy. “I have been motivated throughout quarantine because I didn’t want to lose strength or become too unfit and I wanted to use this extra time to increase my muscle mass,” she says. Rose has adapted to the closure of gyms by also setting up a home gym.
“Mentally I feel I am able to focus more on my workout instead of quickly rushing at the end of a typical workday,” she says. Rose has also noticed positive changes in her body such as muscle tone and increased muscle mass from exercising and eating well. Interestingly, Rose prefers exercising at home as she finds “too much atmosphere is distracting.”
“I will complete my workout in the morning followed by a high calorie, high protein breakfast whereas before I would workout at the end of the day and not always eat afterwards,” she says. Being in isolation has also allowed Rose to have more time at home where she can make home-cooked meals and try new healthy recipes. This includes incorporating big breakfasts into her diet on most days during the week which she did not have time to do before.
A Fitness Australia spokesperson says, “there have been many positive implications of this pandemic like the heavy focus on the fact that exercise is an essential activity in the maintenance of good physical and mental health.” Fitness Australia has also implemented a ‘Keep on Moving’ campaign to help Australians keep active and sustain their health and wellbeing throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The campaign promotes a variety of paid and free workout options and has been profiled by the Federal Department of Industries. According to a Fitness Australia spokesperson, tens of thousands of people have visited the Fitness Australia website since the campaign was launched to access the online exercise programs available or book in a personal trainer to guide them through a one on one workout outdoors.
The World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Alternatively, for those who prefer high intensity physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous movement is plenty. WHO suggests using YouTube to find free online fitness classes that can be easily followed from your living room.
The Department of Health website says staying active lowers the risk of health conditions, maintains weight, reduces mental pressures such as stress and anxiety as well as sets you up to have a better sleep. Further the Department of Health suggests that by finding activities you take pleasure in doing, setting goals, doing an array of activities, forming a routine and pre-planning your days, it will be easier to stay focused on participating in some form of physical activity daily.
As the restrictions slowly ease, people across the world will be able to get back to normality. In the meantime, people are urged to take care of their physical health and wellbeing. Fitness Australia suggests, “if you love the outdoors then find a local walking trail, if you love dancing then find a local group to join or if you prefer something to balance your stressful lifestyle, then choose something like yoga.” Although not everyone is enjoying physical activity during isolation, it has sparked a new passion for many as a Fitness Australia spokesperson says, “it’s been wonderful to have people who don’t normally attend a gym begin a fitness journey during COVID-19.”