Some might argue Australia lived up to its ‘lucky country’ stereotype this year. While much of the rest of the world endured massive caseloads of Covid, strained hospitals and civil unrest, we worked from home, kept calm and got coffee, started a lazy lunching trend, and surfed some of the best waves of our lives.
That’s generalising massively, of course, with Victorians enduring a difficult lockdown and citizens all over experiencing lack-of-employment and sense-of-doom-related stressors.
By and large, though, we’ve had it good – relative to the rest of the world.
Another positive Australians can take from this year is that companies are starting to take more significant steps to prioritise our health.
No doubt, in many instances, there is a financial kickback associated. But the work from home revolution has indeed been fast-forwarded, and the expectation that companies will provide us with services in a more wholesome way has measurably increased.
Enter: Fitness First. The international fitness centre has 360 clubs worldwide and 60 of those are in Australia. Fitness First has also just launched a new policy to support Australians who are struggling financially due to the pandemic.
“Under the policy, which is effective from Thursday, anyone who joins Fitness First after October 26 and later loses their job can claim up to three months of free gym access,” 7News reports.
“Any Australian who has lost, or loses their job from 1 August 2020 until 31 March 2021 can also collect free Fitness First Platinum access for up to two months – no lock-in contract required.”
The policy is intended to offer more than a financial helping hand, with Fitness First General Manager David Aitchison saying: “Fitness Keeper will support Australians so they can continue to reap the wider benefits of exercise.”
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“Physical movement is a great way to shift your mindset and improve your outlook, which is crucial right now as Australians, along with the rest of the world, are facing uncertainty like never before.”
As DMARGE reported in September, as restrictions have eased around the country, Australia’s attitude to gym going has undergone somewhat of a renaissance – to the point gyms have become, in states where they have been able to operate, “the new nightclubs of 2020.”
How? By providing Australians with a similar sense of community (and release) to what they used to seek on a Friday night, not on a Monday morning.
The upshot? After years of being mocked for being ‘cultlike’, boutique gyms like Crossfit and F45 may now get the last laugh, as more everyday Australians turn to them for a sense of purpose and community.
Michael Jordan, CEO of 12RND Fitness, a fitness studio with clubs all over Australia, told DMARGE in September, “there has been a significant uptick in new members and a very strong reactivation of existing members.”
Mr. Jordan also told us – unlike nightclubs – gyms allow you to kill two birds with one stone, boosting your health and socialising all in the same (ragged) breath.
“With Covid-19 causing a reduction in social gatherings at sports clubs, churches and pubs, gyms are becoming the ‘third space’ in people’s lives, other than home and work, where they can get a regular in-person social connection.”
“This is a big appeal in a society that has a greater focus on health – so you get two really important things in your life (social connection and improved health) from the same place.”
“I believe the lockdowns in particular reminded us of how important social connection and physical activity is for our mental health. We live in an age where technology draws us away from these two critical elements we need in our life, and then by also taking them away by closing gyms during lockdown, Australians realised how important these facilities are for fulfilling this factor in our lives.”
The Fitness First initiative also comes in a climate where study after study has come out showing how damn important exercise is for your mental health.
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Mark Mathews, a big wave surfer who had to put his career on ice after snapping every ligament in (and severing the artery of) his knee during a catastrophic injury in the 2015/2016 season, also spoke to DMARGE about the mental health benefits of exercise (and being social) recently.
“I’m hyper introverted, so I often avoid social situations and being alone is usually better for me. But in those times [when I’m in a dark place], having people around and having enough social interaction is kind of a must, just in that it breaks up your thinking pattern because you’re constantly dwelling – but if you have to talk to people [that stops you].”
Other key factors “that are radically overlooked when it comes to mental health, are diet and exercise,” Mathews told us.
“Stop eating junk food and drinking alcohol. Go out into nature and do some exercise… What consists of a healthy diet is very misunderstood in this country and probably causing a lot of psychological distress because people are metabolically sick.”
For anyone seeking further resources on mental health for themselves or a loved one, check out The Black Dog Institute or The Mindshift Foundation.