”Liverpool’s lockdown means gyms are closed, and I’m now fearful about my mental health”

Posted by for Wellbeing

Alice Porter is 21 and lives in Liverpool. She is a freelance journalist who uses the gym for both the health and mental health benefits. Here she explains why the new lockdown restrictions are such a big cause for concern.

Boris Johnson has announced that gyms across Merseyside will close in line with the new three-tier system restrictions. Currently, Liverpool is the only area to face the strictest lockdown measures but the BBC reports that discussions are taking place with local leaders in high infection areas about taking further steps to prevent a rise in Covid-19 cases which could include the closure of leisure facilities.

The government’s decision has received backlash from locals, as a petition to prevent gyms closing in Liverpool has received over 100,000 signatures, while others are planning a peaceful protest in Liverpool on Saturday 17 October to ‘Save our Industry’.

Liverpool is a city that is known for its range of independently owned businesses. Rayner Croft, the co-owner of the Warehouse Gym in Southport says that “Each gym is a huge part of each area’s community and provides sanctuary for some people.” But the financial implications of the closure of gyms for independently owned leisure facilities and the people who work there, many of whom are self-employed, are dire. 

Hannah Ashby, a personal trainer who works in Liverpool, will not receive any financial support from the government as she is newly qualified. Hannah says she “simply couldn’t afford to continue doing [her] job, even once gyms were allowed to re-open” if they stay shut for an extended period.

The new rules also apply to fitness studios but there is frustration as to the lack of distinction between bigger gyms and small studios. Nicolle Rimmer, who founded a Reformer Pilates studio in Liverpool earlier this year, has a maximum class capacity of five, yet her studio falls under the same rules as huge commercial gyms. Natalie Butler, who has had huge success in opening Liverpool’s first-ever barre studio, Barre Balance, says that having her newly established studio closed is much tougher the second time round.

If you would have told me at the end of last year that my future self would be devastated about the closure of gyms, I would never have believed you. But today, as someone who lives in Liverpool, I feel lost knowing that I will have nowhere to exercise for the foreseeable future. 

Alice Porter says the gym has hugely helped her mental and physical health

I began going to the gym regularly in January of this year, having made the predictable New Year’s resolution of wanting to get fitter. But I found that within weeks of starting a new fitness regime the health benefits went so much further.

I had suffered from an extreme form of IBS for many years, which meant that I could not drink any amount of alcohol, caffeine, or foods and drinks that were high in sugar. Drinking a can of coke would result in days and nights of vomiting and stomach ache.

I began to notice that on the days I was exercising my symptoms were significantly reduced and after a few months of training multiple times a week - as well as adjusting my diet - my health problems had more or less disappeared. 

I realised just how important exercising was for managing my symptoms when lockdown began back in March and I could no longer go to the gym. My daily stomach pains returned and I quickly realised I would have to find new ways to exercise but that was somewhat possible at that point since it was still summertime. It was warm, so I could exercise outside whilst FaceTiming my personal trainer and even meet her in the park once that was permitted.

But now, as we approach the long, dark and rainy winter months, it is going to be more difficult to find ways to exercise without the gym. I am worried about how this will affect my physical health, but I am even more concerned about the implications for my mental health.

Since the last lockdown ended, I have broken up with my long-term boyfriend, become self-employed and moved back in with my parents. My days consist of spending a lot of time on my own and sitting at my desk. Going to the gym is often the only reason I have to leave my house. It is my most effective form of stress-relief and it makes me feel like I am part of a community, another reason why independent gyms are so important.

It seems rather strange that gyms have been grouped with pubs and bookies in the most recent closures when exercising would never give you a hangover like a night in the pub might, nor does it encourage unhealthy behaviours like betting shops often do. And the restaurants and pubs that have been allowed to stay open surely pose as much, if not more, risk than gyms do, as they are places where people gather in close proximity and remembering to keep rules in mind gets hazier the more drinks we consume. 

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would rather not be able to eat out or have a drink in the pub any day over not being able to go to the gym. Working out is the thing that keeps my mental and physical health afloat. I do not know how I would have gotten through this year without it and I would feel far more equipped to deal with a winter lockdown if I knew I was guaranteed an hour each day in the gym.”

If you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed, anxious or stressed as a result of the recent rise in coronavirus cases and new restrictions you can find support and advice on both the NHS and Mind websites.

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.

Images: Getty / Alice Porter

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