Fitness club advocates say data doesn’t support closure that stunts healthy activity

by Jim Boyle


by Jim Boyle


As the four-week pause to gyms and fitness centers winds down, the fitness community is rising up to make their voices heard.

There was a rally at the Elk River YMCA on Dec. 8. It’s not expected to be the last, especially if Gov. Tim Walz as much as hints that the gyms shuttered by an executive order must stay closed beyond Dec. 18.

This particular one was organized by Molly Ruby, the Elk River YMCA’s furloughed membership director, with help from Jennifer Mueller, the owner of Anytime Fitness in Elk River and Rogers.

“My mission was to create a personal, visual representation with the people of all ages who have been profoundly impacted by our two closures and the irrational length of time we have been forbidden to participate in the very activities that make us stronger, healthier and build immunity and longevity,” Ruby said.

She was joined by co-workers, members and others from the ages of 1 to 75-plus who have been touched by the closures. Each attendee spoke about their reasons for attending the rally.

A senior citizen said the incredible facility and staff that helps so many in the community — from the child struggling with distance learning to people of all ages who need more physical activity — needs to be open.

“I hope Gov. Walz opens it pretty soon,” he said.

Mueller has been addressing the gym closures locally and on a broader level through her involvement with Anytime Fitness and other corporate fitness center operations like Lifetime Fitness and Snap Fitness who have written the governor, taken out full page ads, urged the governor reconsider his decision to pause gyms and demand the data that supposedly  supports the closures.

Mueller said during the rally that health clubs are an extension of health care and that exercise is medicine.

“Being fit and healthy is one of the best vaccines anyone can have,” she said. “Health and fitness is about to be more relevant than ever.”

She also said fitness centers combat the many unhealthy behaviors that people have engaged in throughout the pandemic.

“I challenge all governors to focus on public health and not just the virus,” she said. “Experts say maintaining physical and mental health during a pandemic can stave off the virus and prevent severe symptoms that require hospitalization.”

Many of the same gym owners and fitness center operators who understood the first closure earlier this year and gladly stepped up their efforts to make their facilities safer in a pandemic were  glad to get back in business and stunned to be shut down again nearly four weeks ago.

“I was assuming we would have more restrictions, but I didn’t think we were going to be closed,” said Luke Smith, the owner Snap Fitness locations in Elk River and Rogers. “I was beside myself when I found out. I could not believe it.

“I can’t believe that’s the best our state leaders could come up with. When we first closed I understood. The governor presented the numbers and made a case for the decisions being made off of data. It made sense.”

Smith said the latest gym closure was not based on facts.

That’s what Life Time Fitness CEO Bahram Akradi expressed at a Nov. 18 press conference prior to the Walz’s announcement of a pause.

Akradi said the state had then reported 237,000 total cases of COVID-19, with 48 of them coming from health clubs resulting in 750 total cases, which is a .003% positivity rate.

Akradi said health clubs are not spreading the virus.

A coalition of health and fitness companies, led by Life Time, issued an open letter Nov. 24 to Gov. Walz and his administration, calling for the State to reconsider its complete closure of health and fitness facilities. The coalition has urged the Governor to permit health and fitness clubs to operate with enhanced COVID mitigation protocols to help Minnesotans reduce underlying health conditions that contribute to even worse COVID-19 health outcomes.

The group cited the closures as counterproductive to the State’s overall public health goals to reduce critical illness, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. To see the letter, click here.

Mueller agrees and states that health coaches and trainers should be considered essential employees. “They are as essential as nurses and physical therapists,” she said.

Ruby said as a resident, parent, active volunteer, and health and fitness advocate she has both felt and seen first-hand the widespread impact that two closures of her local YMCA and other local fitness facilities has had for the individuals, families and businesses that contribute to what was formerly a thriving community.

“These fitness facilities are not just buildings, they are the people, relationships and livelihoods of Elk River,” she said, noting careers, jobs, therapy, healthy routines, life skills (swimming lessons), mobility and social/emotional growth has been destroyed by closing the YMCA and other local health clubs.

“We are the people, we are hurting, and we must stand together for positive movement, positive representation to invoke change,” she stated. “We must open safely to promote whole health and well-being.”

Ruby said she was very inspired by the community of Elk River for showing up this past Tuesday.

They came for many reasons. Many said it’s a place to get away from the stresses of life and that it is their happy place.

Daily routines allow members to achieve their fitness goals and relieve stress, one high school student said.

Many talked about how their whole family goes to the YMCA.

“The Y gives us an anchor when so much of the world is crazy,” said one member.

A charter member to the YMCA offered her take. “I’m not understanding with the low case rates (at gyms), the almost non-existent rates why gyms are shut down. It hurts people’s physical and mental health,” she said.  “I want the shutdown of the YMCA to end.”

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