A healthy mind, in a healthy body during Covid-19
2021-08-06 | By Kim van der Velden
During a press conference in March 2021, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that the population had gained millions of “coronakilos”, due to pandemic lockdown measures. Was he right? Did the pandemic affect our fitness and eating habits? Which changes will remain?
If you go to the gym, you’re participating in an institution that dates back three thousand years. The word ‘gymnasium’ means a place to exercise naked, which is not very commonplace nowadays, but it remains a place where we work on our fitness and health.
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that mental and physical exercise belonged together and even reinforced each other, summarised in the old Latin saying ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (a healthy mind in a healthy body). Olympic sports of running, javelin and wrestling were practised at the gymnasium, so to our modern eyes it would most closely resemble an athletics venue.
By the middle of the 19th century, the gym as a commercial enterprise emerged. Hippolyte Triat, vaudeville strongman turned fitness entrepreneur, is usually credited with being the first to open commercial gyms, first in Brussels and then in Paris in the late 1840s.
Joseph Pilates opened his first pilates studio in 1926 located in the vicinity of the New York Ballet, originally catering for dancers. Pilates practice has become mainstream nowadays, where it is part of almost every gym’s class schedule.
After World War Two, chains of health clubs emerged in the US with Vic Tanny Health Club (1946) and Gold’s Gym (1965) as the precursors of the modern fitness chains, making fitness practice affordable and accessible to the masses in suburbs and cities.
To counter the ‘mass product’ approach of the large fitness chains, the late 90s and early 00s saw the emergence of boutique gym clubs–smaller scale, with an ultra-personalised approach, often at a higher cost to the gym member.
Pandemic effects on fitness practice
Due to the restrictive measures to contain the effects of the pandemic–closure of schools, offices, shops, cultural events, bars and restaurants and sports and gym clubs for much of 2020 and part of 2021, many of us have experienced disruption affecting us physically and mentally.
Samuel van Gelder, personal trainer and coach, based in Diemen near Amsterdam, observed a difference between behaviour during the first lockdown and as time went by. “At the start, the situation clearly had a disruptive effect. Due to stress and social isolation, people made unhealthy choices–less workouts and more unhealthy food. But over time you could see people started to find new fitness routines again in combination with working from home and making more healthy food choices”
Beste Dolanay, yoga and meditation mindfulness instructor based in Amsterdam, saw a similar trend, “at the start, as everyone felt stuck and had less mobility during the pandemic, people were overwhelmed with the situation and were looking into ways of coping with stress, uncertainty and anxiety. Then they started to be more interested in any kind of movement and doing some form of exercise at home.”
A healthy mind and body
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For more information about sport and physical activity in the Netherlands, go to the Dutch government’s website government.nl/topics/sports
Was Mark Rutte right with his statement about us having gained millions of “coronakilos”? According to a report published by the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), 63% of the population stayed at their original weight, 17% gained on average 2.8 kilos per person and 13% lost on average 1.6 kilos, which is an additional five million kilos for the population. That the majority stayed at their original weight makes this figure feel less alarming.
More worrying is that more than half of the population have stopped or reduced physical exercise practice. As is often the case though, the pandemic also stirred creativity and some new fitness practices emerged.
Outdoor fitness is not something new, but during the lockdown, many of us found it liberating to go out in the fresh air and get some exercise.
Van Gelder sees this as one of his favourite new trends. He admits he has a personal preference for training sessions outdoors, “although I do enjoy indoors too, outdoor sessions are given extra energy due to the fresh air. It is too early to state whether this trend will stay, given the weather conditions in the Netherlands”. Dolanay has also observed that if the Dutch weather permits, “yoga in parks outdoors can be a wonderful experience”.
It seems that even after the opening of gyms in the Netherlands, the offer of outdoor bootcamps and Crossfit sessions in groups or on an individual basis are here to stay, at least whilst the clement weather conditions remain.
Dolanay noticed very quickly during the pandemic that digital classes were providing a safe and practical environment for her students to continue their yoga and mindfulness practice. There are also benefits for herself, the teacher, too, as she now, “does not need to run from studio to studio for her classes anymore”. This allows her additional time to practice more yoga for herself too. Not only do online classes provide Dolanay’s students the freedom of location and time, but also for herself !
Van Gelder also sees the benefits of online classes “as people can chose their own time and place, have reduced travel time and use their own equipment in a safe setting”. But he wonders how the real contact with teacher /coach and fellow students can be maintained and whether the virtual contact will be motivating enough.
On demand platforms and fitness at home
While fitness practice from home has always existed, new technology possibilities allow a revival. The andemic has caused the acceleration of technology usage in the fitness industry, with the rise of purely digital classes platforms and with some going as far as offering a fitness at home subscription, including equipment rental. Digital experiences are enhanced and refreshed regularly at high pace to keep users’ attention “always on”–similar in a way to online content providers like Netflix.
Connection of body and mind
Continued lockdowns have led to many people still experiencing isolation, and mental health remains a major area of concern across the world, during and beyond the pandemic. Staying physically active can be a real aid to maintaining good mental health. According to online reports Glofox and ClassPass, yoga was the top digital workout of 2020, which shows that mental and physical health still go hand in hand like the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew. Mens sana in corpore sano.
About the author
During the pandemic, Kim van der Velden has gone on many walks outdoors and followed online yoga classes regularly, but despite all efforts, has unfortunately contributed to the five million “coronakilos”.