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Coronavirus taking toll on small fitness centers | Business

NEW YORK – There’s little evidence of Americans’ passion for fitness at the tens of thousands of small and independent gyms around the country.

Gyms, health clubs and workout studios began reopening in late spring following government-ordered shutdowns aimed at halting the coronavirus spread. But most are only allowed to have a fraction of their regular clientele onsite at one time. And some clients are staying away for fear of catching the virus.

The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association, an industry group, estimates that gyms, health and fitness clubs lost an aggregate $13.9 billion during shutdowns as of Aug. 31. The group warns that without government help, at least a quarter could close by Dec. 31 as limits on indoor workouts continue.

Michael Hanover is lucky if he gets 45 client hours a week in his Northbrook, Illinois gym, Fitness Hero Wellness Center, down from his usual 60. He sometimes opens at 5 a.m. or stays late at night to get those hours; many clients are too uneasy to come in when other people are there.

“We don’t have people pounding on the door trying to get in,” Hanover says.

In Illinois, gyms can operate at 50% of capacity, leaving Hanover with no more than 10 people onsite at any time. He feels small gyms have been lumped in unfairly with big fitness chains where there might be hundreds of people exercising at once and coming into contact with one another. He’d like to be able to bring in more clients.

Hanover’s big worry: A surge in cases that might prompt officials to force gyms to go back to holding only outdoor classes and one-on-one training sessions indoors.

“It will be devastating and most likely, the end of Fitness Hero Wellness Center,” Hanover says.

Over 80% of the 40,000 to 50,000 health and fitness clubs in the U.S. are small businesses, according to the Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association. Whether yoga studios or fully equipped gyms, these businesses provide a livelihood to their owners. Last year, the overall industry employed 3 million trainers, instructors and other workers.

In a thriving fitness center or small gym, people run on treadmills or pedal stationary bikes nearly side by side, exercise classes are crowded and trainers work with clients just inches or a few feet apart. Following a good exercise, people tend to breathe more frequently and harder.

When it comes to the coronavirus, all those scenarios concern health officials because they can increase the spread of the respiratory droplets that carry the virus.

To allay those fears, owners follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines calling for bikes and treadmills to be spaced farther apart or unplugged so some can’t be used. Equipment is disinfected after each use. Masks are required.

Owners are also installing ventilation equipment to lessen the chances of breathing in concentrated amounts of coronavirus germs. But these procedures don’t reassure many people who used to work out several times a week.

Vincent Miceli, owner of Body

D.C. residents to see small increase in health insurance marketplace rates

Rates for individual coverage will increase overall by 0.2 percent and rates for small-group coverage, such as small businesses, will decrease by 0.5 percent, according to the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, which reviews and approves rates for the online marketplace.

The 2021 rates are a “big win for D.C. residents in making health care more affordable and accessible,” said William Borden, a professor of medicine and health policy at George Washington University. He pointed to how people struggled to keep up with rising health insurance premiums even before the novel coronavirus took hold.

“Having health insurance is clearly associated with better health outcomes, and so if there was going to be a sharp increase in insurance premiums that really could be devastating, especially as individuals, small businesses are already struggling financially,” Borden said.

Insurers initially asked for rate increases as high as 30 percent, but most of the insurers decreased their initial rate filings after a virtual public hearing in September.

During that hearing, leaders of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, which operates D.C. Health Link, the online health insurance marketplace, advocated premium reductions or freezing rates at 2020 levels. More than 30 people signed up to testify.

The gap between what insurers initially proposed and what the DISB approved after the hearing will save D.C. residents more than $17 million, according to the department’s news release Friday.

Open enrollment in the District runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31.

Other jurisdictions also have moved to limit increasing rates.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) approved an average 11.9 percent premium rate decrease for individual health insurance plans through Maryland Health Connection, the state-based health insurance marketplace, in 2021. This is the third consecutive year that individual premium rates have gone down in Maryland. Open enrollment in Maryland runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

The open enrollment period for all three jurisdictions will begin just as the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which could leave more than 23 million people without health care, according to a report from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

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A Small Step for Olive Oil as HFpEF Treatment

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) showed promise as a secondary prevention therapy for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) in a small uncontrolled study.

Nine study participants with HFpEF and obesity were supplemented with unsaturated fatty acid-rich foods and had their EVOO intake estimated over 12 weeks according to their dietary recall, according to researchers led by Hayley Billingsley, RD, of Virginia Commonwealth University, who presented the data in a poster at this year’s virtual Heart Failure Society of American meeting.

Daily EVOO intake increased from zero at baseline to 23.6 g on average during the study, with greater EVOO consumption accompanied by small but significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness on cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET).

A statistical model indicated that a 40-g increase in EVOO intake led to increased peak VO2 by just under 2 mL/kg/min, a roughly 6% improvement compared with predicted peak VO2; oxygen uptake efficiency slope also increased by about 0.1.

The nine people in the study had a median age of 56 years. Five were women, and six people were Black.

Dietary recalls were conducted at baseline, 4, 8, and 12 week visits. Participants underwent CPET at baseline and at 12 weeks.

“Further studies are warranted to confirm this finding and establish a basis for testing the effect of EVOO on cardiorespiratory fitness as well as major cardiovascular outcomes and to explore these effects across differing baseline intakes of EVOO,” Billingsley said.

In particular, more work needs to be done with large, rigorous randomized trials, said Tariq Ahmad, MD, MPH, of Yale University School of Medicine, who was not involved with the study.

However, it is biologically plausible that EVOO may be beneficial for HFpEF, commented C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

For example, olive oil is known to be high in monounsaturated fat, with lower levels of vitamin E, polyphenols, and lipid molecules that may contribute to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, one group recently cited from the literature.

Some consider HFpEF to be not one disease but several syndromes, some of which may be related to coronary microvascular dysfunction that is linked to inflammation.

If olive oil does help in HFpEF, it would be a source of hope for those with the condition, as patients currently have no treatments proven to improve their clinical outcomes. Results with sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto) have been mixed in this population, and other options have failed outright.

Ahmad noted a range of limitations to the study, such as lack of information on how patients were diagnosed, absence of a control group, and the small sample size.

Another point of caution is the known training effect in exercise studies, Bairey Merz said.

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    Nicole Lou is a reporter for MedPage Today, where she covers cardiology news and other developments in medicine. Follow

Disclosures

The study was supported by a grant from the NIH.

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