David, now 44, started his fitness journey back in 2000, when his lack of exercise and habit of visiting drive-throughs had left him overweight and with a suspected heart problem. He says: “At the age of 23 I was ashamed of my weight. I suffered with joint pain, associated mobility problems and was seeing the doctor for depression. The decline in my health finally kicked me into touch – I’d be exhausted by the simplest tasks and was booked in to see a heart specialist.”
It was then David decided to join a local gym. “I found a real connection with the exercise and feeling good,” he explains. “It was tough going to start, but before long I was reaping the benefits. I started lifting weights, had a personal trainer and shed so much weight in just the first year.
“My mental health saw a vast improvement too and my heart concern went away. I found myself doing bigger and better things with the help of people in the gym; it’s amazing the amount of knowledge gym goers and personal trainers have about exercise and nutrition, and just how willing they are to share this.
“For me, being a single man and living alone, the most important element of the gym is the social setting. Previously, I was quite isolated and withdrawn. Now, I’ve developed many good friends in the gym community.”
David now has a membership with a budget chain and also attends various independent gyms via Hussle, an online marketplace which aims to attract customers who require multi-venue workouts, occasional users and ‘try-before-they-buy’ customers.
“Hussle gives me the ability to supplement my regular gym membership with visits to other local independent gyms, so I can pick the ones I want to use when it’s convenient for me. I don’t want to be tied down to a single chain or individual club that I might not always be able to access.”
David has shared his fitness journey on social media, and has been vocal during COVID-19 about keeping gyms open as much as possible. “For me, going to the gym is therapy for good physical and mental health,” he says. “It’s a motivational setting where I’m surrounded by likeminded people; a warm, safe place with access to equipment to help me exercise different muscle groups, as well as somewhere I can get great advice on lifestyle and nutrition, and access to private physiotherapy services.”
Understandably, the lockdowns have taken their toll on David. “During the first lockdown I was furloughed, so was able to get out for long walks,” he says. “A friend also bought me a second-hand indoor bike so I could exercise at home, and so it wasn’t too bad. Initially during the second lockdown I was in Tier 3, so was able to use the gym, but when we were moved into Tier 4, exercising in the cold and dark was incredibly tough; I had to cycle at home.
“When the full lockdown was announced in January, I sat at home weeping, totally demotivated. I needed the support of my friend who said, ‘The lockdown is not in your control, focus on the things that you can control’, just to get over the mental challenge.
“I still find each day has its challenges. It’s tough to find motivation when you’re stuck in the house and I find it a lot more effort even to use my indoor bike. My mental health has definitely taken a dip, but I’m coping through the support of others. However, I do miss my friends in the gym and the social element. The gym was really my only form of release – while others go to the pub, the gym is effectively my pub.”
The UK’s gyms, pools and leisure centres are under severe financial pressure, and thousands face a battle to survive unless they receive greater financial support from the Government. To support your local facility, please email or write to your MP to call for their support. Find your MP here.