For many, the novel coronavirus has made a “normal” routine of nine to five superfluous. Paradoxically, instead of spending a large part of their working day, many professionals now work from home with a higher workload than before.
When the pandemic hit Pakistan last year, it took many of us by surprise. But from those first days of confusion and without knowing how to react, people gradually began to grapple with the “new normal” and find ways to adapt. In the process, some have drastically changed their lifestyles for the better, while others briefly flirted with fitness only to give up when things returned to how we remembered them.
With a drastic reduction in outdoor activities – from work to shopping, eating, and socializing – staying home is triggered by a frenzy of caring for one’s health and physical fitness.
Bicycle boom and bust
Friends and families trapped at home looking for a way to accept and enjoy this new, slower pace of life, for example, started cycling in their neighborhood. Not only was the activity a great way to socialize while maintaining social distance, but it also allowed people to still get some fresh air and explore outdoor sights without fear of contagion.
“It’s such a common sight in my neighborhood now. For many, it was a regular hobby to form groups between 7pm and midnight and sometimes even afterwards and get their bikes out on the streets, ”said Syed Salman Ali, a DHA Phase 8 resident, adding,“ Even though I’m just driving around Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue, a herd of cyclists can be seen after the fajar. “
Ali, who is an avid rider himself, said the whole idea of physical fitness and cycling influenced him differently. When this trend started he decided to use it as an opportunity to turn it into a company. He started bringing in Quetta bikes and selling them in Karachi. He bought cycles for 8,000 to 10,000 rupees and turned them over for more than double. As soon as the larger market got wind of this, they too took advantage of the boom by increasing their prices to 17,000-18,000 rupees.
“At the top I have sold bicycles in Karachi for up to 35,000 rupees,” said Salman. “As soon as the ban was lifted, however, these seasonal cyclists broke out of the buzz. I still have 25 bikes that I was never able to sell after the schools opened in September, ”he complained.
From gyms to home gyms
Like most companies affected by Covid-19 and the related lockdowns, suppliers of sporting goods and exercise equipment also felt the crisis. Fortunately, the income did not dry up and they only had to deal with a change in consumption patterns.
“People started ordering exercise machines and other types of fitness equipment for their home,” said Shehzad Iqbal, the owner of the New Liaquat Sports Shop in Karimabad. “Of course we lost a lot of business early on, but within a few weeks it picked up again and we vendors shifted our sales online via WhatsApp and Facebook.”
The pandemic also changed the way many Pakistanis, especially in large cities, viewed fitness. Partly because they suddenly had plenty of time and nothing to do, many began investing in their own health.
The most common orders, according to Iqbal, were bicycles, helmets, protective gear, bench presses, bars, free weights and treadmills. “Basic machines that could be used at home were still in demand, while the complicated ones, which require the need for specific techniques and trainers, were not very popular,” he explained.
Iqbal’s bestsellers over the past four months have been badminton rackets. “During the winter, when you wander around Karachi, you can see people playing the sport on their terraces or on their streets,” he said. “This trend is now easing a bit due to the increase in road time, but we are still seeing an increase in sales which means there is some interest.” According to him, the sale of badminton goods in 2020 broke all records in the market in the past five years.
Online courses and personal trainers
When Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill, people who once enjoyed a healthy walk outdoors found themselves limited with limited means to take care of their health. At the same time, health experts clearly praised the benefits of an active lifestyle in keeping the virus at bay.
“People who are active, exercise regularly, and run daily are considered healthy compared to people who haven’t had such a routine and who were believed to have a lower risk of being hit too hard by the virus.” said Yasir Akhter, who is a physical trainer in the gym.
He added that there have been suggestions that Covid-19 is affecting blood flow and causing clotting in the veins. “Exercise and a healthy lifestyle can slow it down and boost your immunity.”
According to Akhter, when everything was initially closed, people followed health trends and challenged each other. Many physical trainers have also started hashtags on Instagram with jogging and cycling challenges, which motivated many people to start cycling.
“After several weeks of gym and meeting closings, we received questions and customers asked about exercises that could be done at home or online. Many customers inquired about diet plans, exercises that can help build immunity to the pandemic, and the YouTube tutorials that are best to follow, ”Akhter said, reporting on how gym owners and trainers have dealt with the closure of Gyms were finished.
“Many of the customers have received help from YouTube tutorials. While some came to us to be fit, most worked at home with online sessions until the lockdown, ”the trainer told The Express Tribune. “However, once the restrictions were relaxed, many left the middle of progress.”
Gyms have not been allowed to operate since March, when the first phase of lockdown was imposed and everything was closed. Although gyms were not yet specifically allowed to operate, they became functional once the government lifted restrictions on other businesses.
Another physical trainer, Khushbakhat Zubair Butt, who works at Iron Box in Lahore, shared that Covid-19 started at the beginning and the gym business was completely shut down. Within a month, they started online classes for their registered clients because they knew the gyms weren’t going to open in the near future, neither the world nor the world would return to normal. The problem, which they also initially realized, was that people were very afraid to go out because they were afraid of contracting the virus.
Given this scenario, the coaches needed someone to motivate people, or at least push them to improve their health, and after struggling for a few weeks, many clients they came in contact with either organized training at their home coaches where the trainers were still at limited risk while other clients took online group zoom courses or private online training.
“Online training is not 100 percent efficient because the techniques and machines cannot be taught during video calls and the availability of equipment in a fitness setting was also a major missing factor, but some type of physical activity began anyway,” said Khushbakht.
Additionally, she added that the whole idea of linking physical fitness to Covid-19 is to encourage people to build their strength and immunity.
Defeat the virus
Sharing her experience of contracting coronavirus, Khushbakht recalled training in a park in mid-November last year after the lockdown was lifted when she felt really hot out of nowhere. When she got home she had a high fever which she initially believed was due to exhaustion. The fever broke out after a few days but suddenly she had difficulty breathing. “That rang alarm bells for me and I decided to get tested,” said Khushbakht.
She gave a sample at a nearby hospital and went into isolation while she waited for the results of her PCR test. As expected, the result showed that she had tested positive for Covid-19. Her lungs were affected and she felt like she was running out of energy. “Coronavirus hit me badly for almost seven days and weakened my muscles,” she said.
To energize her body, she did everything from vitamins, juices, good food, steam and lots of water fruits. Doing all of this helped her regain strength, but it still took a month before she felt normal and started exercising again.
During this recovery process, she had difficulty climbing stairs until January and then usually felt breathless. Lifting weights like she used to do was difficult for her for a while too. “Everything that was easy, like normal walking, made me tired, but slowly my body began to adjust. After exposing myself to a little pain and stress, I was able to resume my old exercise routine, ”said the fitness trainer.
How trends are disappearing
The Covid-19 fitness craze now seems to be resolving as quickly as it started. As offices and educational establishments resume normal activities, many of those who took to the streets and parks or rooftops for fitness reasons are no longer visible.
“We still have the business shift to an online setup of existing fitness facilities. We get thousands of questions every day and people mostly just want to work out at home instead of going to the gym because there is still a fear that germs will stay on surfaces longer, ”said Khushbakht.
What has never been done before was virtual training, which has become so common over the past year. The trainers even took on international customers as part of exercise courses on Zoom. While some trends have changed, loyal customers who wanted to adhere to a healthy lifestyle have stayed. The number of these people who continue to use online exercise courses is higher than in 2020, she added.
It was about six years ago that there was rapid change in Pakistan and people began to take their health and lifestyle more seriously. People began to be more conscious of what they were eating, exercising while following the latest trends, spending time outdoors to get the sunlight they need, watching online exercise videos, and taking a more conscientious interest in their general health and fitness to develop. Such people felt fearful, helpless, and trapped during the lockdown.
Cricketer personal trainer Shehzar Muhammad told The Express Tribune how the country was going on a path of fitness, and then Covid-19 changed those dimensions. “People are usually afraid of change and gym closings have been a setback. People are still afraid to come back to training even after a year. In addition to having an economic impact, Covid has had serious implications for mental health and physical fitness, even though people have had more time to focus on themselves, “he said.