By Rep.Tom Oliverson
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we look at the world. A simple trip to the store now involves donning a mask, talking to employees with face shields, and socially distancing yourself from fellow shoppers. This comes as our medical professionals have identified ways to live a relatively normal life while mitigating the chances of contracting the virus.
As a physician, I am confident that we will find a vaccine and overcome the coronavirus in the coming months. As a legislator, I have vowed to protect the health and safety of my constituents in these trying times. All of my medical colleagues will tell you that it is imperative – now more than ever – that everyone takes care of their mental and physical well-being. For me, keeping physically fit has been indispensable and I am thankful that gyms all over the state have adapted to our new normal and implemented the protocols necessary to keep guests safe and healthy.
COVID-19 may be new to us, but obesity has been a rising global crisis for years. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, while over 42 percent of Americans are considered overweight and you have to assume that the numbers have increased with people being quarantined over the past 5 months. Over 2 million Texans have diabetes and heart disease was the leading cause of death in our state in 2017 – clearly we need to get people more active. Going to the local gym holds people accountable and is motivation for working out and keeping fit. Without this outlet and the proper equipment and professional fitness guidance, the physical health of people across Texas will only further deteriorate.
Not only has COVID-19 taken its toll on people’s physical well-being, it has also highlighted serious mental health challenges as people have been isolated for months, limiting their physical interaction with others. The CDC reports that over 40 percent of Americans have struggled with mental health or substance abuse issues since the start of the pandemic. Study after study will tell you that fitness and going to the gym is a vital tool in improving mental health. For many, like myself, the gym is a supportive community that will push you to your fitness goals and inspire you when you are feeling down. Moreover, we need a reprieve from the onslaught of negativity in the news and on social media, and running, lifting, and safely participating in a fitness class allows you to unplug for just an hour or two, which is essential today.
Throughout Texas, fitness facilities are operating at limited capacity with fewer clients while staff constantly sanitize equipment and frequently used surfaces. Gyms have also implemented mask-wearing policies and are requiring advance workout reservations to keep track of everyone who comes in and out, enabling them to easily contact trace in the unlikely event of an outbreak.
We have all joked about the “quarantine 15” and how 2020 is the worst year in a century, but we need to take our mental and physical health very seriously as this pandemic continues. Being healthy is the best way to protect yourself from the coronavirus and gyms will ensure that Texans can stay fit and safely interact with members of the community. My fellow policymakers should ensure that gyms remain open to the public and that every business that operates during the pandemic takes the proper precautions to keep our constituents safe. We should not simply shut everything down out of fear as the research offers us a different perspective on the role fitness plays in overall health and immune function. Our health and fitness matter now more than ever.
Dr. Oliverson, R-Cypress, is a practicing anesthesiologist and represents District 130 in the Texas House of Representatives.
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