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By Shai Neger, CEO, CoachAi

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people around the world are self-isolating to help stem the tide. But despite our collective commitment to stay at home, exercise remains a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, and the desire to be active has never been higher. According to a new survey from Sport England, “almost two-thirds of adults [in England] consider exercise to be more important than ever during the current coronavirus crisis”.

The same survey found that 65% of adults “believe exercise is helping them with their mental health” during lockdown. But the temporary closure of gyms and leisure centres has left people without an outlet for physical activity, making it difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine.

Behaviour change experts have long known that our habits are shaped by our surroundings. When we change our environment, we might not be exposed to the contextual cues that set our established routines in motion, making it all-too-easy for those routines to fall by the wayside. If someone is used to stopping by the gym near their office on their way home from work every day, not going to the office might be disrupting their exercise regimen. As a result, regular gym goers might be suddenly finding themselves struggling to establish a new workout routine.

On the other hand, data shows that drastic changes to our surroundings can also act as a catalyst to help form new habits. The Sport England survey highlights that our physical activity behaviours have been disrupted massively since the lockdown began.

But not all of these behaviour changes have been negative. One third of adults are currently doing more physical activity per week than they did before social distancing measures came into effect. For many people, the current lockdown is an opportunity to take a break from their daily grind, enjoy a bike ride with their children, or finally try out an online yoga class.

With millions of people suddenly looking for ways to be active at home, fitness providers around the world are producing record amounts of digital content, and many of them are providing it for free. In other words, there’s no shortage of instruction about what to do and how to do it. There is, however, a crucial element of regular exercise that’s still missing for many people: companionship.

On-demand fitness providers can’t offer their customers the personal attention, friendly environment, and one-to-one coaching traditionally offered by brick-and-mortar fitness facilities, which is why some clubs have opted to leverage this competitive advantage. Rather than add more online fitness content in an already-crowded marketplace, clubs like the University of Hertfordshire’s Sports Village have set their staff to calling members one by one to offer them coaching, personalised workout routines, nutrition counselling, and more.

While some clubs are relying on staff members, others are collaborating with independent personal trainers, and leisure operators with lighter staffing models have turned to artificial intelligence to help them to stay engaged with their members during lockdown.

Three weeks ago, CoachAi released a special Home Edition of our award-winning virtual companion, designed to help people maintain their exercise routines from home by providing motivation, support, and guidance tailored to this unprecedented situation. We’re offering this service to clubs for free with the goal of helping them retain their members and attract new ones during the lockdown, and we’re seeing fantastic uptake by clubs and their members. Operators like Abbeycroft Leisure, LED Leisure, Brunel University, and Holmes Place have already put the CoachAi Home Edition to work with full intent to emerge from the other side of the Covid-19 lockdown stronger than ever.

Look out for the latest stories and blogs in our Together series on the ukactive News page and Journal. For the latest sector guidance and daily analysis, visit the ukactive COVID-19 hub.

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