Physical Fitness and Exercise During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Enquiry

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought this fast-moving world to a standstill. The impact of this pandemic is massive, and the only strategy to curb the rapid spread of the disease is to follow social distancing. The imposed lockdown, resulting in the closure of business activities, public places, fitness and activity centers, and overall social life, has hampered many aspects of the lives of people including routine fitness activities of fitness freaks, which has resulted in various psychological issues and serious fitness and health concerns. In the present paper, the authors aimed at understanding the unique experiences of fitness freaks during the period of lockdown due to COVID-19. The paper also intended to explore the ways in which alternate exercises and fitness activities at home helped them deal with psychological issues and physical health consequences. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 22 adults who were regularly working out in the gym before the COVID-19 pandemic but stayed at home during the nationwide lockdown. The analysis revealed that during the initial phase of lockdown, the participants had a negative situational perception and a lack of motivation for fitness exercise. They also showed psychological health concerns and overdependence on social media in spending their free time. However, there was a gradual increase in positive self-perception and motivation to overcome their dependence on gym and fitness equipment and to continue fitness exercises at home. Participants also tended to play music as a tool while working out. The regular fitness workout at home during the lockdown greatly helped them to overcome psychological issues and fitness concerns.

    Psychological Health Issues

    Almost every participant reported facing psychological health issues linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Participants experienced frustration, anxiety, fear, and stress. For example, participant 11 reported,

    “I am experiencing frustration daily for spending my 24 by 7 time at home, looking at same faces and am not allowed to go anywhere. Anxiety of work and its upcoming scenarios tickle my mind a lot. What if I have to do my job virtually for a lifetime? ………….Like that. And especially experiencing a fear of losing my ever charming personality, the economic status of family, no wages or less wages, fewer opportunities in future, job shift, health care of my family.”

    The closure due to the pandemic has created a state of uncertainty about an individual’s own future as well as about the future of the family and community, which in turn is being reflected in terms of psychological states of frustration, anxiety, fear, and stress.

    Individuals stuck at their homes without a clearly defined routine and work are not able to prioritize their work schedules, resulting in the experience of unexplained laziness and fatigue. Participant 7, for example, reports that

    “Physical fatigue has reduced as there is no physical load or fixed working hours, but the mental fatigue and mental pressure has increased manifolds. Worries have increased. Spare time is more than what was required and due to this lethargy has increased. Frustration level is going up.”

    The monotonous and closed life cycle of one confined to one’s own home has also resulted in extreme disturbances of one’s sleep cycle. For example, Participant 5 reports,

    “Sleep a lot, a lot!! Just imagine I have been sleeping 10 to 12 hours after the lockdown. My sleep pattern was set earlier due to office, but it is disturbed now in the absence of a routine. I have virtual meetings now also, but if the meeting is to start at 10, I would get up at 9.40, wash my face and attend the meeting. After that I feel like taking a nap again. I sleep for 8 hours wake up and exercise in the morning, but I have the liberty to be flexible with my time. seriously I am craving for gyms to open, my trainer to keep a check on me, scold me, I really want complete sleep and a routine.”

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