Gym closures hurt physical, mental health

Paul Gill says the closure of gyms will cost jobs and hurt mental and physical health.
Paul Gill says the closure of gyms will cost jobs and hurt mental and physical health.

A Sydney gym owner has warned extensive social distancing policies put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 may damage the physical and mental health of Australians.

Paul Gill, the owner of GFitness clubs in Freshwater and Rhodes, said the federal government's closure of gyms, indoor sports centres and other nonessential businesses this week won't just cost jobs.

"There has to be an understanding by the government that the cure will also have an impact on people's lives physically, psychologically and their wellness will suffer," he told AAP.

"You can't exercise, you can't see your friends, you can't go to the movies or eat out. It's going to take a toll on the mental health of people and that will be a huge cost to the country too."

Gill said he and wife Nadia "put everything on the line" when they opened their $5 million Freshwater gym at the redeveloped Harbord Diggers club six months ago and now could lose everything.

"If we don't get through this, we will lose our house, we will lose our kids schooling, we will be displaced and other people will be in the same boat," he said, acknowledging the 100 gym staff, trainers and instructors he's had to stand down.

Their business interruption insurance, like most, excludes quarantinable diseases, so Gill is urging the federal government to push ahead with plans to put businesses into "hibernation" for up to six months.

In the meantime, the couple will be launching "stay at home" exercise program in an effort to keep their 4500 members moving.

"Now more than ever it's so important to keep moving, we want them being active," Gill said.

"So many Australians are going to get up, not get out of their pyjamas and sit in front of their computer and start their workday."

He said exercise is proven to help with anxiety and depression, heart and lung function and keeps the immune system strong and less susceptible to infections.

It's a view shared by Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish, who estimates about four million Australians will be missing their gym memberships while 20,000 fitness professionals could stand to lose their jobs.

"Those four million Australians are going to need to maintain exercise not only for their physical health but their mental wellbeing to deal with all the events happening around them," he told AAP.

The industry body has been assisting gym owners to move services online in an effort to keep people fit and engaged.

"It's been phenomenal to see how quickly gyms both big and small have been able to adapt, to set up online exercise programs or take their classes outdoors.

"All you can hope is this is temporary."

Australian Associated Press