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In fitness and in health: Tech offers a doomsday alternative

To what extent can the digital world make up for the real, when it comes to fitness, and what are the downsides? Take a look.
UPDATED ON FEB 21, 2021 07:10 AM IST

Can tech fill the gap in the fitness space created by the pandemic? Across most of India, people are still wary of returning to the gyms and swimming pools, yoga sessions are off the table and Zumba classes on indefinite hold.

Digital offerings have multiplied in response — gyms have launched online tutorials, trainers have begun to conduct Zumba classes on Zoom, there are meditation sessions being held via Facebook Lives. These online options offer greater variety and convenience, and the prices tend to be lower than for a similar session in a brick-and-mortar space, but virtual sessions can’t really substitute for the real thing, says Karan Valecha, director of Gold’s Gym India, which went entirely online for the first time in its 18 years.

“With fitness being digitised, there are the problems of information overload and tech fatigue, with a confusing array of options and people not knowing which ones are reliable,” Valecha says. “Most importantly, there is the lack of external push or peer motivation.”

Motivation is a key difference, say fitness enthusiasts who’ve swapped the gym for a virtual platform.

“It feels more boring online, many of my customers have told me,” says Kishor Sadashiv More, 38, a fitness trainer in Mumbai. “Keeping fit digitally leaves you with a sense of isolation. The motivation of watching another person doing the same exercise or yoga positions is missing. It’s also difficult to teach people to fix a mistake or correct their posture if you’re interacting with them virtually.”

Even for a relatively solitary exercise like meditation, says Nehal Modi, 39, a wellness enthusiast and digital marketing executive in Delhi, getting together on a Facebook Live felt awkward. It didn’t help that there were technical glitches, and not everyone could find a quiet corner in their homes. “But over time we got used to the new format and it works for me,” Modi says. The general consensus is that a virtual routine is preferable to having no fitness routine, or running a risk by trying to revert to a pre-pandemic one.

“Covid-19 has also made more people aware of their comorbidities — be it obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure,” says Tushar Vashisht, co-founder and CEO of the fitness app HealthifyMe. “Many of our new users say they had never signed up for a gym before.”

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