The lockdown restrictions in England had caused some concern for the safety of women exercising outdoors during the evenings and they had to change their exercise habits.
One of the rules of the second lockdown, which began on 5th November and ended today, 2nd December, limited those who exercise outdoors to being accompanied by only one other person from outside of their household.
With gyms being closed during lockdown and darker nights setting in, exercising in the evening was simply not an option for some.
For a significant proportion of physically active women in England, the decision to exercise outdoors during the second lockdown became a choice between looking after their physical and mental health or their safety.
A Change of Routine
Unsaid spoke to some women who have felt it necessary to change their exercise habits during the second lockdown in order to protect their own safety.
Keen runner Holly, from London, told Unsaid that she struggled to fit an exercise routine around her job which avoided her running in the darker November evenings.
“During the first lockdown I ran two or three mornings each week and walked every night. When gyms opened in August, I was excited to return to group exercise classes, it’s one of my favourite ways to exercise.
During the second lockdown my routine changed dramatically. I struggled to keep up my running routine alongside my job; I needed to go really early in the morning as it’s too dark and unsafe to go in the evening.”
Holly argues it is ‘unfair’ that some women felt that their exercise habits were limited due to the restrictions in place.
She believes a lack of outdoor exercise during lockdown can have a significantly detrimental impact on mental health.
“I think gyms should have stayed open. It can be really scary for women at night and it’s unfair to have our exercise routines restricted like this. My fiancée wouldn’t think twice about doing a late-night bike ride, but I am getting up at 5 to do my run because I can’t face going at 8pm, and sometimes skip it altogether because I don’t have time in the morning.
I think if they were able to keep schools and some shops open they should have kept gyms open and enforced social distancing. Exercise is so important for mental health and with short, dark days I think it would work wonders for people to be able to keep their routines up.”
Exercise Habits and Mental Health
Mental health charity, Mind, reported that 60% of adults felt a decline in their mental health during the first lockdown in Spring.
Olympic weightlifter and regular gym-goer Anya explained to Unsaid how the closure of fitness facilities in the first lockdown strongly affected her mental wellbeing.
“I used to do Olympic weightlifting. I’d be at the gym 4 days a week, lifting super heavy weights. It kept me insanely fit and did wonders for my mental health. With gyms shut, that all changed. I got severely depressed and couldn’t train the same way at all. My top floor apartment wouldn’t have taken the 200kg + of weights, even if I could have afforded the thousands of £s it would have cost.”
Anya has, however, found a new way of exercising from home during lockdown – in the form of a well-known video game. She believes that it was right for gyms to close in order to help control the spread of the virus.
“I’ve always had an Xbox and so that sort of became my new thing. Then I discovered the Just Dance game and although it’s super far from weightlifting, it is a great/hilarious way to exercise and keep fit.
I’ll probably still play a bit for some cardio (and fun!) but definitely not a total convert! I think, however, the risks of the global pandemic outweigh the risks of gyms staying open.”
‘A gender gap’
Many women have taken to social media to draw attention to the issue, highlighting a ‘gender gap’ seemingly overlooked in enforcing such restrictions.
Some Twitter users have suggested that employers offer their workers time to exercise during the working day while it is still light outside.
Something that won’t get enough attention in a winter lockdown: women will not have the freedom to follow encouragement of outdoor activities if they can only do it after a workday. It is now dark and unsafe. A rather rancid gender gap will be very obvious – to women, anyway.
— Jade Azim (@JadeFrancesAzim) October 31, 2020
Journalist and runner Rebecca Myers posted a thread arguing that the safety of women has been overlooked in implementing this new restriction for the second lockdown.
In the thread, Rebecca voices her concern that the rule could have a long-lasting effect on women’s exercise habits. She wrote:
“The concept of this hidden “curfew” got a lot of attention last year. It surprises me every autumn – you look up from work thinking how nice it would be to go for a run and… it’s dark. Many women (me included) just don’t feel comfortable going out to exercise alone at night.
We must work hard to ensure this year doesn’t have lasting impact on women’s activity levels.”
‘Feeling unsafe at dark is nothing new’
A survey of 1,000 UK women conducted by Runner’s World in September found nearly half of women had experienced harassment on a run, compared with just 9.2 per cent of men.
“I’ve bought a high-vis jacket and glow-in-the-dark leggings” says fitness fanatic Kate from Newcastle.
“I go out running after uni around about 6pm since I have classes all day and because the uni gym isn’t open. It’s a bit frightening but my flat isn’t big enough to exercise indoors. I didn’t feel safe running at night-time before lockdown – feeling unsafe at dark is nothing new – but I don’t know what else I can do.
The decision is either to stay indoors for a whole month or to take the risk”.