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How we exercise has changed but whether we do is still in our hands

Column by Caroline Johnson, MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham

The measures put in place to combat the coronavirus have had a huge impact on people’s ability to maintain an active lifestyle.

I know the closure of gyms, swimming pools, and other sports facilities have been incredibly difficult, especially when these venues were just getting back on their feet and their users had been able to return after a long hiatus.

Caroline Johnson (23271513)
Caroline Johnson (23271513)

Restrictions on outdoor, more socially distanced sports such as golf and tennis have also been frustrating. Ministers have taken the view that the purpose of all closures is to reduce contact between people in order to curtail infection, and this could not be achieved by making exceptions, no matter how attractive they might appear.

These closures combined with the darker winter days pose a real challenge to staying active. Promoting healthy lifestyles is at the core of Government’s efforts to refocus healthcare on preventing ill health rather than just looking to cure it when it occurs.

This year local authorities have received more than £3bn in public health grants and proceeds from the soft drinks industry levy have helped schools upgrade their sports facilities and give children access to top quality PE equipment.

The pandemic has further highlighted the importance of preventative healthcare, with studies showing that being obese can have a significant impact on the severity of coronavirus symptoms. After his first-hand experience with the virus I welcome the Prime Minister’s renewed focus on this issue as he seeks to reduce obesity and consequently improve health and wellbeing.

The current measures in place are time limited and I know the return of grassroots sports and reopening of leisure facilities is a priority for this Government as soon as it is safe to do so.

With the R rate going down and promising news on vaccine development there is reason to be hopeful.

When we are in a place to lift restrictions it is crucial sports and leisure facilities are able to open their doors again.

The Government has taken a number of steps to support them through this difficult time, including business rates relief and the extension of the furlough scheme. In addition a £100m scheme has been announced specifically to support local authority leisure centres.

While there may be more obstacles in the way of people getting and staying fit many avenues remain open for exercise both in and outdoors.

There is no limit on the amount of exercise people can take outdoors and many people have reconnected with nature in their local area through long walks or runs.

There has also been a huge increase in the amount of online exercise content which can be followed from the comfort of your own home, from following workouts on YouTube to taking part in group yoga sessions over Zoom.

How we exercise has changed but whether we do is still in our hands.

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