Hongkongers rejoiced across the city on Friday as gyms , fitness clubs, yoga studios, dance classes and workout venues opened after more than a month. Dumbbells, yoga mats, spin classes, weights, treadmills, dance music playlists all came flooding back into our lives and the happiness at locations across the city was palpable. The Hong Kong government needs to take serious note of this; citizens have essentially been asked to put their lives on hold, and restricting exercise options for many is like restricting breathing. There is no better natural remedy than physical fitness. Countless studies, wide-ranging, dating back decades, show that even a small amount of exercise, no matter your age, has a wide range of benefits. It boosts your mood and just as importantly, your metabolism and immune system. The benefits of being healthy reverberate through every aspect of one’s life. If Hongkongers need anything right now to cope with an unprecedented global pandemic, it is a good sweat. Speaking to gym owners and fitness industry leaders over the past few days for a story , one thing became glaringly clear: they felt left out of the discussion, neglected and misunderstood as the government ordered multiple shutdowns starting in April. Many received a HK$100,000 subsidy six months ago, however for most it barely covered a month’s rent while business revenue in 2020 has essentially flatlined. ‘We’re dead in the water’: Hong Kong gyms bleed out as they reopen Andrea Ramirez, who opened AndFitHK in March in Central, said the only way she had been able to continue her business was by a fellow local understanding the dire circumstances she had been forced into. “The only reason I have survived three lockdowns is because I have the most amazing landlord and he has been an angel,” said Ramirez. “But he didn’t have to reduce my rent or work with me, and most studios I know didn’t have that, so that would have meant bankruptcy for me for sure.” Ramirez said she put a lot of money into getting her studio up and running and then basically was told to shut down and weather an economic storm for what has now been six months. “The biggest issue is the government just forced us to close completely, and in my view it would have been amazing if they would have done it slowly, or at least allow us to continue doing personal training sessions.” Another common sentiment among the community was the government did not seem to understand that the local Hong Kong fitness scene employs a lot of contractors. Victor Chau, a yoga teacher with more than 5,000 hours of experience from all over the world, said the industry is filled with people like him. “Many yoga and fitness instructors in Hong Kong work as freelancers,” said Chau. “We teach scheduled classes and private clients, mostly organised by the small and medium sized gyms and studios in Hong Kong. We get paid as we teach, this is how the majority of the industry works.” Chau said like many within the industry, he’s tried to adapt to the restrictions to continue earning a living, with mixed results. Some have even started delivering food to pay their bills. “I have also tried teaching yoga and fitness classes on Zoom but this might not work for many of our clients as a lot of them live in a tiny apartment, so spreading out a yoga mat or doing a HIIT workout might prove to be difficult. Some of us have also offered classes in public areas such as parks and the promenade along Victoria Harbour. The recent two-person social distancing restriction makes any group classes impossible.” Rodrigo Caporal, who opened Espada Studio, a martial arts gym in 2016 in Sheung Wan, said they were grateful to get the subsidy from the government in April, but they are still on the edge financially. “The closures have definitely put a financial strain on us as with everyone else and we like everyone else will need subsidies to get through this recent spate of closures,” he said. “Our landlord has provided a very minor concession for a few months out of the last six or so months but they too have told us that they are being squeezed because the rest of their business is suffering so were unable to provide much relief.” Trixie Velez, who runs Defin8 Fitness in Central with her husband Leo, which opened in 2016 and expanded to a bigger studio last year, said things have been tough dating back to the start of the protests last summer, which essentially rolled into the coronavirus pandemic. “Hong Kong has been through a lot this past year and exercise, physical activity will help boost our immunity and look after our mental well-being,” she said. “Gyms were closed totally but we were still training outdoors, which wasn’t ideal given the humidity, wearing mask plus we had to carry some weights to the park. We are just hoping that there will be no more waves to come and everything will return to normal soon.” Hong Kong’s government not only needs to hear the voices of its locally run fitness scene, but also understand a key weapon in fighting the pandemic and its many ripple effects is physical activity. Moving forward, this sector needs to be taken care of, because when you boil it down, everyone’s livelihood depends on how well we can weather this storm and come out the other side together.