By Natalie Son
Spring 2020 - Elias Wilson, 27, skims a local dollar store to purchase peppermint candy puff tubs that are repurposed as components of his DIY gym equipment. He empties the tubs and fills them with cement and a trimmed PVC pipe binds two heavy masses of concrete with a hefty lining of duct tape that secures the creation. This is the action taken by an individual accustomed to visiting the gym three to four times a week, for the pandemic’s closure of gyms forced adaptation and a change of lifestyle for Wilson, similar to other active gym-goers.
Although the pandemic made it difficult to do basic things, many have started or continued to pursue fitness and healthier lifestyles despite COVID-19. An age of isolation during quarantine led to the improvisation of at-home workouts and experimentation with workout routines, but the reopening of gyms and a slow return to normalcy have given people the option to return to in-person workouts.
On June 29, 2020, Doug Ducey signed Executive Order 2020-43k, which ordered that all non-essential businesses had to close until July 27, 2020. This order, similar to those enacted by governors across the U.S., included closing gyms, as many people had to adapt their fitness regimens.
Arizona’s gym closures tremendously impacted the life of 24-year-old Alex Gonzalez, a current graduate student in Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. His pre-pandemic gym visits would occur five to six times a week.
“Going to the gym is about being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, an outlet to destress and to forget about everyday life for an hour or hour and a half,” Gonzalez mentioned.
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts tend to believe that their forms of exercise provide mental clarity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attests that those with higher physical activity have greater sleep quality, higher self-esteem and mental health compared to those with less exercise.
As the spread of inspiration and motivational groups arose during quarantine, social media users began to inspire one another by sharing
their own fitness journeys and nutritional tips with the public.
Abigail Fridman, an enthusiastic pre-med student at Stony Brook University, also stands out as a social media influencer by sharing her health and fitness journey and tips with her followers. Her journey was ignited in conjunction with the pandemic’s isolation and internal motivation to improve her mental health.
Fridman’s key to maintaining her physical prowess and balance between fitness, health and her studies are bound together by the need to be mentally stimulated or inspired at all times.
“I appreciate going to scenic areas where I become mentally stimulated and inspired,” Fridman said.
By sharing her growth of escaping from self-pity, and rather taking action to make a change, Fridman valued the possibility of inspiring others to take the same initiative that turned her world around for the better.
This same concept of support and togetherness is valued by Colleen Neary, a 54-year-old attorney who embarked on a journey of building her endurance and health for her satisfaction. After being warned about high blood pressure at the doctor’s office in November 2020, Neary joined a Facebook group filled with women in the same boat as her.
Called “Fat to Finish Line,” Neary described the online support group to be a judgment-free zone where ideas of body positivity were preached in a manner that defied society’s standards that consider “fit” individuals to be unrealistically lean.
The power of online communities can be reflected by Neary’s strong belief and passion in a message she holds close to her heart.
“Big people can do a lot. It shouldn’t be about trying to achieve an unachievable skinny body. I'm doing this to be healthy and strong, not about reaching a certain size,” Neary said.
Although the peak of the pandemic influenced masses of social media users to work out or adopt healthier diets, hate comments and negative feedback on these platforms are inevitably present. Just as Neary found a positive community to further her journey with, Fridman’s TikTok features her healthy meals and fitness lifestyle to her supportive followers.
The availability of online fitness classes, YouTube workout videos and informative social media videos kept society well-informed and generally provided the opportunity to continue self-improvement journeys.
Although Wilson had applied his creativity to test potential substitutes to unavailable gym resources, he emphasizes the extent to which the true gym experience can be replaced.
“It was cool to be back in there for the first time in over a year; you can only do so much with your own bodyweight or random objects at home,” Wilson said.
Society has slowly been heading back towards pre-pandemic life as gyms are re-opening. Those who adapted to new modes of fitness and began creating active lifestyles can exit the pandemic with a wider lens into the importance of healthy living and broadening interests.