Physical activity promotes student wellbeing – UniSport’s facilities must be opened as soon as possible

Physical activity, especially the diverse services of UniSport with their student-friendly prices, is a lifeline to many students overburdened by their studies. UniSport’s sports centres should be opened with certain restrictions in place as soon as the coronavirus situation permits.

The coronavirus pandemic has been shown to have decreased wellbeing among students. According to a study conducted at the University of Helsinki, up to 60 per cent of students at the University of Helsinki felt either severely burnt out or at risk of burning out at the end of 2020.

Physical activity has a holistic positive effect on wellbeing. In addition to preventing several widespread diseases, physical activity also reduces the risk of depression and alleviates its symptoms as well as improves stress tolerance, the quality of sleep, self-esteem, study ability and life management. It has a positive connection to study performance, income and level of education, for instance.

During the coronavirus pandemic, physical activity among young people in particular has decreased. Everyday physical activity has been noticeably absent, and the polarisation of physical activity has increased. It has been possible to go to bars but not to the gym or to group training classes.

Even restricted opening hours would promote wellbeing

Due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, UniSport’s sports centres have been closed since 30 November 2020. At the same time, many other private gyms and sports centres have continued to operate under normal opening hours. Some of UniSport’s customers changed gyms, some probably for good.

The decision to close the gyms was responsible, as the situation with the epidemic had become more serious. However, students did discuss whether implementing restrictions on the number of people on the premises would have been possible instead of a full closure.

The implementation of such restrictions should be seriously considered now that the coronavirus situation is starting to look better again and indoor physical activity is likely to be allowed towards the end of the summer. UniSport’s existing reservation system could easily be expanded from reserving group training classes and massages to also cover the reservation of gym visits, in accordance with the meeting restrictions in place at a given time. According to UniSport, an expansion of the reservation system has already been discussed.

However, UniSport cannot decide on the closing or opening of its sports centres alone. The decision depends on the crisis management team of the University of Helsinki and its policies on opening the premises. The decision to close the University’s premises applies to UniSport, too. In its policies, the crisis management team follows the decisions of the coronavirus coordination group for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. When this coordination group considers it possible to open gyms, even partially, the crisis management team should follow these decisions.

It is understandable and responsible that the University keeps UniSport’s sports centres closed to avoid infections in its facilities. If coronavirus infections were discovered in the University’s premises, it would be detrimental to the University’s reputation. Considering the big picture, though, it is silly that UniSport’s customers are simply crowding into other private gyms that did not have restrictions on the number of people present before the beginning of March.

Once the situation with the epidemic improves, UniSport’s sports centres should be opened as soon as possible, in accordance with the meeting restrictions in place at the time and utilising the reservation system. This would be a concrete act promoting student wellbeing from the University. Available options should include other tools than just a full closure or a state of normalcy.

Tuukka Kainulainen
Board member