The impact of technology on physical fitness during the pandemic

Knowledge regarding the benefits of exercising regularly is widely known and its importance has been brought to notice now more than ever. While the world we knew came crashing down in the past one and half year, some people resorted to working out to pass time while some used it as a means to maintain sanity during these bleak times. It also gave a chance for people who take their health for granted to pause, reassess and re-prioritize. This article will highlight the journey and the modifications the gym-owners and their clients have made in their ‘locked down’ lifestyle to continue incorporating exercises and the positive impact it has made on their physical and mental well-being.

Pre-covid, going to the gym, playing tennis or football in open-air spaces, visiting yoga and Pilates studios were a part of people’s everyday lifestyle. As an attempt to control the rapid spread of the deadly virus, using these outdoor spaces for activities was brought to an abrupt halt. Hectic work from home hours, balancing chores at home, performing well at work and dealing with the crippling anxiety of an uncertain tomorrow along with restricted activity added on to the misery of most. While gyms are a great way to build on strength and it also acts as a platform for people to socialize with like-minded individuals, research suggests that group workouts help motivate and challenge an individual which therein improves their performance and helps them stay consistent with their workout. Also, being a part of a group exercise regimen makes people skip their routine less often as they are answerable to many and not only to themselves . People fell off the fitness bandwagon as the new normal was being introduced globally and it took time for them to adapt to the new world. Along with factors like their favorite workout spots being non-functional and lack of access to facilities (eg. turf, gym equipment, swimming pools, etc.), reduced motivation was another component that acted as a hindrance to their goal of staying physically active.

‘Necessity is the father of all invention’ was a sentiment that led to the birth of multiple online programs. The damage created by the lockdown was collateral, adversely affecting both the consumer and the healthcare industry. To cut the massive losses the pandemic caused, these professionals re-invented themselves in order to deliver their services within the comforts of people’s living room. Fitness-club owners picked up on the trend and began offering multiple online classes to fit the need and an individual’s budget. The consumer can pick a class from a plethora of different exercises ranging from yoga, zumba and to the more intense kick-boxing. Classes that would have been expensive when attended in-person or geographically inconvenient to reach were made available easily at a cheaper rate to the masses. Based on the needs of the client, the trainers coach them individually or then in bigger groups. The availability of all these varied options without having to travel far and wide to access them and its affordability added on to the list of benefits these virtual workouts provided.

Exercising on a regular basis has a direct impact on the overall physical, mental and spiritual well-being of a person. It helps in improving their strength, flexibility and endurance. It helps in increasing the bone density, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and also improves the cardio-respiratory functioning. Along with these physical benefits, regular workouts help in regulating sleep patterns, improve skin health and boosts memory. There is a direct correlation of regular exercises and improved mental health. Studies suggest, after a workout we have a surge of endorphins which help us feel motivated and gives a sense of euphoria. These endorphins are even said to reduce the sensation of pain and cause a long-lasting post workout elation also called a ‘runner’s high’. The release of these endorphins helps people tackle conditions like depression, ADHD, trauma, stress and anxiety. Regular exercises help us improve our body image which thereafter has a positive impact on the self-esteem of an individual. The positive effects that are reaped after a consistent exercise schedule aides in boosting the self-confidence and morale of the person.

Along with physical fitness, even the medical world resorted to virtual sessions. Mainly physiotherapy, which involves improving people’s quality of life by alleviating their pain and enhancing their mobility. Along with relieving pain, a physiotherapist coaches sportsmen to improve their posture, form and in preventing sports-related injuries. Most physio sessions are conducted in-person as it involves an in-depth assessment, palpation, and then formulating a treatment schedule. But with the deadly disease knocking on the door, physical therapists formulated techniques to provide their expertise digitally. Similar to the gym sessions, PT too is provided virtually, where the therapist treats the patients in solidarity or a group setting.

Deep breathing exercises- helps strengthen the diaphragm, improves the vital capacity and are found to be essential to combat the pulmonary weakness caused by Covid. These exercises, when incorporated along with a regular workout schedule, help in providing an integrated wellness experience. Besides improved pulmonary health, mindful breathing techniques also aides in reducing anxiety by anchoring oneself to reality, instead of allowing the mind to drift away to the past or the future. Vast number of people during the lockdown found themselves stressed and hence resorted to registering themselves to digital options of staying fit. While isolation and loneliness were some of the major factors contributing to this mental upheaval, these virtual classes which mimicked the experience of a group workout gave the users a sense of belonging and allowed them to interact with fellow, like minded humans. In the past, exercises were seen as a means to reach vain, cosmetic goals of having a trimmer waistline, but come pandemic, there is a shift in this ideology where people are holistically thinking of health. This change in the thought process caused an incredible uptick in the number of subscriptions to online classes.

A market study done by BBC World, read that the sale of devices like Fitbit and other smart-watches has increased exponentially by 35% since 2020. These gadgets help in tracking the daily activity levels and also the calories burnt while performing various tasks. Some of the advanced watches have features that monitor the heart rate, record an EEG and gives the user hourly reminders to drink water. Along with tracking the various fitness components, these watches also help in increasing the motivation and consistency levels amongst the people. The device offers multiple exercise routines ranging in intensities and lets you digitally compete with your friends and family. This feature was mainly useful during the pandemic, as it allowed people to engage with loved ones safely while staying disciplined and making healthier choices. Users also resorted to using apps like- ‘My Fitness Pal’ and ‘HealthifyMe’ to track their meals and be aware of the calories consumed. Along with calorie consumption, a detailed report of the break-up of the macro and micro-nutrients of the meals is provided.

Along with exercises, people also leaned towards practices like meditation and mindfulness as coping mechanisms. During the pandemic, a surge in subscriptions of many apps like ‘Calm’, ‘Headspace’ and the likes was observed, which teaches its users ways to meditate, do breath-work and other techniques which help them disconnect from the world momentarily. The user can choose from a wide range of meditative practices belonging to different schools of thought and based on their duration. Most of the meditation practices are simple to learn, easy to support online and can be done alone or in a group setting. These practices can be done by adults, children or also by people belonging to the geriatric age group. Crises like the Covid-19 pandemic have shown that change is the only constant and meditation helps us adapt and thrive in these ever-changing times.

Having mentioned the benefits and the positive impact digitalization brought along in the world of fitness, it is of importance to realize that having access to technology and being able to exercise is a matter of sheer privilege. More than 50% of homes in India do not have access to the internet while more than 15% do not have electricity in them. Furthermore, with the average income of an Indian citizen being grossly less than 20,000 INR most of them cannot afford to own gadgets like smartphones, laptops, or smart-watches. It is just the handful of them who belong to the upper-middle-class living in urban cities that have the prerogative of owning these gizmos and using them to their benefit. Besides the monetary aspect, having the time to indulge in these self-care activities is a luxury for most people. Coping with the household chores, helping children with their online schooling and being productive professionally are already too many responsibilities that are being imposed. To be entitled to have time for one, amidst these hectic times is freedom not offered to all. For those of us who have a choice to utilize these advantages, it is imperative of us to be mindful of our privileges and remember that what we take for granted on an everyday basis is an unaffordable luxury to the other.

The experts say that the pandemic and the effects it has had on the human race will be considered as one of the darkest times in modern history. People resorted to exercising and forming healthy habits as a survival mechanism in this apocalyptic period. People chose working out as an activity during these times as it could be done easily within the confinement of their homes with the help of minimum equipment. Technology stepped up, remodeled to the need of the hour and made it easy for the population to adapt to the surroundings and form new and healthy habits. This time around, technology helped not only in bringing the world closer but also in making the same world a lot more fit – both physically and mentally.

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