Keeping Track of Our Physical and Mental Health During the Pandemic

Adam Erickson, Contributor

We are now over ten months into a year that has been completely consumed by a global pandemic – a pandemic that has caused changes in almost every facet of our lives. One of the ongoing but sometimes overlooked debates during this time has revolved around how we measure the risks against the rewards of staying inside.

This is especially relevant regarding the pandemic’s effect on mental health, which for many students correlates directly with their ability to keep up with their physical health. I think everyone can agree that we all need to do our part in slowing the spread of the virus, but that also needs to be weighed against some of the not-so-obvious risks involved.

There has already been plenty of data pointing to the current mental health crisis that the pandemic has caused. In fact, according to a World Health Organization survey, “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing.”

Considering that time at the gym is commonly used as a stress reliever for many students, the restrictions caused by COVID-19 have been an overlooked burden. “Especially as schoolwork ramps up and considering classes are being held virtually, the ability to go to the gym and stay active is almost a necessity for many,” says University of Minnesota student Pat Newell.

The University of Minnesota boasts one of the most elite recreation centers in the Big Ten, but early on, it was unknown how the pandemic would affect its operations this fall. As of now, the Rec Center is open for use but has implemented many restrictions. These include limited occupancy in many areas, limited use of certain equipment, and masks being required at all times, even while exercising.

Newell, a regular user of the University’s recreational facilities continued, “The experience at the Rec is not the best right now with all the restrictions, I get it, and I am all for wearing a mask during my day to day, but wearing it at the gym, especially while exercising, feels a bit ridiculous, not to mention the other limitations. A few friends and I actually considered getting a Lifetime membership for the semester.”

It seems that the sternness regarding the rules vary from gym to gym, city to city, and obviously from state to state. “I guess the U is taking extra precautions, which makes sense, but if you are able to take off your mask for a few seconds to drink water, I’m not sure of the difference in taking it off for a few seconds to perform an exercise,” said Newell. Unmistakably, the pandemic has not only caused most fitness clubs to undergo organizational change but has also manifested change in many individuals’ personal routines, especially in regard to physical and mental health.

The alternative for the many students who rely on exercising to supplement their physical and mental health is to find ways to workout at home. In the past year, the stock price of Peloton Interactive has jumped 305%. It goes without saying that purchasing at home equipment such as Peloton bikes has become a common way for people to stay engaged with their physical health during this crisis.

University of Minnesota student Emma Culbertson is one of the thousands of Americans who recently transitioned from working out in public gyms to the comfort of home. “I had been doing cycling group classes consistently at the Rec here at the U for about six months before the pandemic happened and loved it. I was pretty sad when the Rec closed down, so when I saw that Peloton was doing a 90-day free trial of their app, I signed up. It helped me create a new routine and gave me something to look forward to each day.”

It is no wonder why Peloton has seen so much success. Whether intentionally or not, the company has found a way to help many people reap the necessary rewards that come with working out without the risks involved with going to a public facility. While companies such as Peloton have certainly proven to provide an effective alternative, it will be interesting to see if this becomes a long-term solution, as many people still find comfort in going to the gym.

“I think it depends,” says Culbertson. “Having the Peloton makes it easier for me to do my entire workout from home because I have the machinery. However, a lot of people are just doing bodyweight and at-home workout videos, so I think people who still want to use workout machines will go back to using the gym.”

Indeed, for many people, going to the gym is their break from reality, and during this pandemic, their break from their homes. The important takeaway is that there are many risks and rewards to consider besides the virus itself. With mental health becoming a more recognized risk as the pandemic continues, it is important look for solutions as well as understanding the different circumstances we all have.