Putting the “physical” in distancing: how to stay active and safe in a post-pandemic world

The growing tally of local and major sports events cancelled as the pandemic took hold was yet another grim reminder of how quickly and indiscriminately COVID-19 dramatically altered our lives. 

Active people, however, found clever ways to cope during the crunch. Who knew that bench-pressing water jugs could be so invigorating? Or that there were so many types of online HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts?

Faithfully following online fitness trainers many of us had never heard of before the pandemic helped to keep mind, body and soul happy and health within the confines of our homes. “I might as well be safe and fit during the pandemic,” a friend of mine said. “Just don’t ask me to do burpees.”

Recreating healthy recreation

Now, as the country walks slowly toward recovery, Canadians are taking along the many lessons we learned during lockdown. Among other things, we’re discovering that a slower pace can be very rewarding.

“We started walking in the evenings after work, and enjoyed discovering lots of interesting things in our neighbourhood”, says Lynne Triffon, a Vancouver-based Senior Vice President and Financial Consultant for T.E. Wealth. “There’s so much street art and architecture, and so many wonderful gardens to see when you take the time to really open your eyes to it. We often post photos on Instagram from our walk, which helped us stay connected with friends and families.”

By embracing a slower and more observant lifestyle, we’re recreating healthy recreation. Indeed, there are so many stories about people being creative in how they’re staying active, you have to ask if we’ll ever need to go back to the gym? 

I love the squat rack as much as any other middle-aged guy, but I’m in no rush to head back into my local gym. A few Amazon purchases later and my wife and I have all the ingredients we need at home to lift, run and cycle up a storm when the weather conspires against being active outside. Neighbours have done the same thing in ways that suit their lifestyles. Flexibility is the key here, in more ways than one.

Yet, while the pandemic has many of us moving around at home in novel ways, it brought many aspects of the recreation sector itself to a standstill. Indoor venues across Canada closed their doors almost overnight, throwing thousands of people out of work at least temporarily. Figures released in July by Statistics Canada showed that almost 95% of businesses in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector took some sort of “staffing action” to deal with the pandemic. In many cases, young and seasoned fitness professionals alike were suddenly without work once the lockdown came. 

Many of them readily adapted. Entrepreneurial fitness trainers hold boot camps in schoolyards and church parking lots across Canada. On any given morning, small groups of sweaty clients are being pushed through their paces by trainers standing six feet away and surrounded by personalized water bottles. Teams are re-emerging as well. We back onto a school that had been largely quiet for months. The energetic emergence of a boisterous outdoor volleyball league behind us quickly became a welcome soundtrack to an increasingly active summer.

Whither spectator sports?

Before COVID hit, packing yourself into a crowded hockey arena with wildly over-priced food and beer was a normal, fun-filled event. Those days seem like years ago now. In rapid succession earlier this year, the NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer closed all of their respective venues and postponed their seasons. And with most team sports now re-starting behind closed doors, it may well be a long time before we return en masse to any given sports venue.

“Personally, I don’t see spectators going in person to see any sports until there is some sort of vaccine,” says Scott McKenzie, Senior Vice President and Financial Consultant in T.E. Wealth’s Toronto office. “And when these venues do finally re-open, what kind of prices are they going to charge, especially if they have to recoup an entire lost season? Eager fans better starting saving now.”

Major golf tournaments, among many others, fell victim to the pandemic. The RBC Canadian Open, scheduled to start on June 11 at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto, was cancelled in mid April. Meanwhile, the CP Women’s Open, scheduled to be held from September 3 — 6 at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, was also cancelled due to COVID concerns. 

This hasn’t stopped Canadians from hitting the rinks themselves, however. Far from it. As reported by TSN earlier this summer, Golf Canada said there were 17 per cent more scores registered with the national sport body this June compared to the same month last year. A total of 1,483,506 rounds were submitted to Golf Canada’s handicap calculator in June compared to 1,271,782 in June 2019. 

“It was a pretty big jump from last year, comparing 2019 numbers to this year,” Adam Helmer, senior director of golf services for Golf Canada told reporters. “We were expecting that as golf has emerged as one of the safest activities, where people can be physically distant and we’ve reduced touchpoints.”

For Lynne Triffon, sailing is her safe habour. She and her husband moor their 32-foot boat “a pleasant 30-minute walk away from home”. And even while they weren’t allowed to take it out due to COVID restrictions, they still enjoyed being on their boat for happy hour, dinner and a few “staycation” weekends.

Like golf, sailing is also increasingly popular this year. But being on the water comes with a price tag. “Boats are selling like hotcakes right now,”Lynne says, “though inexperienced boaters may underestimate the costs of maintaining one. They may also have a hard time getting insurance.”

Plan to be patient

Experienced travellers know to build in some time for potential (if not inevitable) delays as they move around the globe. Well, you can double that time (at least) when it comes to travelling in a global pandemic. Screening checks at both ends of a journey are designed to keep travellers safe, but they can be tests of patience. 

So, that ski trip this winter to the Alps or Andes? Sounds great, as long as you don’t mind delays on the ground and having the middle seat occupied while in the air. Truth is, the financial models of airlines are built around maximizing capacity on every flight. Take out the middle seat and these business models hit heavy turbulence. 

But, then, who really wants to be that close to other passengers for that long? You can almost hear the heated discussions between airline marketing executives (“let’s make it fun and safe to fly again!”) and their colleagues in finance (“fill every seat, every time!”). It must be very tense in those meetings. Yet for outdoor enthusiasts willing and patient enough to fly, the skiing will no doubt be fabulous.

For the time being, with autumnal weather not that far off, staying active locally remains a great outlet. Canada has infinite options when it comes to cycling, golf, paddling, hiking and walking. “We are fortunate to live in Beautiful British Columbia,” remarks Lynne. “Whether you’re an avid or casual hiker, we have many beautiful places to explore right here at home.”

And, yes, those online HIIT training sessions are always available as well. Whether you want to add in burpees is entirely up to you.

Steven Bright, a longtime client of the firm, has worked in and written about financial services for more than 25 years. You can find him on LinkedIn

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