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From sport to exercise: Two key issues during the lockdown

Posted By SABPP, Monday, 01 June 2020




From sport to exercise:

Two key issues during the lockdown

By  Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP


South Africa is a top sport nation in the world.  In several sports we have produced world champions at the individual level, as well as at a team level.  For instance, last year South Africa became World Cup Rugby Champion for the third time since 1995. Who will forget the moment Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi raised the Webb Ellis World Cup Rugby trophy for the whole nation and world to see. 

However, as a result of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the unthinkable happened and sport has been stopped, not only in South Africa, but also globally.   Once again, we see unclear and confusing regulations pertaining to sport under the relaxed level 3 of the lockdown. In particular, professional sports stars were hoping that they could compete again soon, but it appears as if only non-contact sports will be permitted to resume.  As announced by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Nathi Mthethwa, it also appears as if sport matches and professional athletes may not be allowed to practise sport in hotspot areas as declared by the Minister of Health.  This means that sports will not be permitted in the main metropolitan areas. This decision if followed through would not make sense, given the fact that most of the major sporting facilities are in the bigger cities.

Despite the closing of gyms and the ban on all sport events during levels 5 and 4 of the lockdown, including school sport, the need for exercising was a key highlight of the response of ordinary South Africans to the lockdown.  Many people continued doing some form of exercise at home, while not being allowed to exercise at gyms or other public places, thus running, walking or other forms of exercise were not permitted during level 5 of the lockdown.  As a concession, during level 4, since 1 May, citizens were allowed to run, walk or cycle between 6:00 and 9:00am in the mornings, but with a mask on, an issue that was challenged by runners struggling to breathe while jogging.  A positive unintended consequence of this relaxation is that it appeared as if people who would normally not exercise would also join others during this time slot, as a result of their frustration staying at home for such a long period without being allowed outside.  It is also an interesting fact that South Africa is one of the countries with the highest number of gyms in the world, although gyms are likely to remain closed under level 3 of the lockdown.  Likewise, South Africa is also one of the most active Parkrun nations in the world, and these runners and walkers are still not allowed to return to their Saturday morning venues for their weekly period of exercise.

Now under level 3 of lockdown starting on 1 June, this period of allowed exercise in public has been extended and will now be from 6am to 6pm. Those of us who are not morning persons welcomed this concession.  Not only will it help to prevent overcrowding in a short period as was the case before, more people are likely to participate in some form of exercise over the extended period of 12 hours per day.  It is also a reality that in addition to being one of the most obese nations in the world, many South Africans have already admitted to over-eating during the period of lockdown, hence the need for exercising is even more important than before.

While many people used exercise as one of the ways of dealing with their frustrations and stress when staying at home for more than two months, it is key for us to build on these efforts in creating a fitter and more healthy nation.  Being so visible on the streets, the fitness and obesity levels of many of our defence and police force staff members leave a lot to be desired.  Similarly, the country also needs a more caring and accommodative approach in ensuring that other essential workers in high stress occupations such as nurses also need dedicated time, support and encouragement to exercise before or after their stressful shifts at hospitals and other health care facilities.

Here are some guidelines for South Africans to consider in becoming a fitter nation:

  • Commit to do some form of exercise, whether running, walking or other forms of exercise at home.
  • Set goals on what you want to achieve in terms of your weight and overall level of fitness.
  • Exercise at least three or four times a week to improve your level of fitness.
  • Use exercise as a fun activity for the whole family.
  • Encourage your children to stay fit while sport is not allowed at school.
  • Supplement your exercise with healthy food, drinks and vitamins.
  • Use an App to measure your fitness activity or keep records of your exercise as part of a holistic approach to your health and wellness.
  • Wear masks and maintain your physical distance while exercising.
  • Keep on motivating yourself as you see improvements in your fitness and overall health.

As a nation of enthusiastic sport fanatics, we have to be honest with ourselves that we were better spectators than players in the past.  The lockdown changed that. Many people have become active and are now doing regular exercising. This is an exciting development, and South Africans are encouraged to keep on improving their fitness levels, while also getting rid of some lockdown fat!  Whether all sport will resume soon or only non-contact sport, remains to be seen as we await the Minister’s process of consultation to be completed over the next few weeks. It is also evident that gyms will not open soon.  Let us become a fit and healthy nation as we commit to health, fitness and wellness at our homes, workplaces and society at large.

By  Dr Marius Meyer, MHRP

Marius Meyer lectures in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University and is Chairperson of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). He is responsible for the development of the new Postgraduate Diploma in Strategic HR Management at Stellenbosch University.  For more information on the Coronavirus, visit



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