A note to the gym owner offering free memberships to people who refuse to get the vaccine

Dear Ian Smith, owner of The Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey:

I see that you are offering free memberships to your gym for anyone who refuses to get a COVID vaccine. In a Twitter post, you wrote, "In light of Krispy Kreme giving free donuts for receiving the CVD shot, here at The Atilis Gym we are giving out free memberships to all who don't get vaccinated. We believe in health — the real way — exercise, good diet, plenty of Vitamin D, Zinc, and an environment to destress."

First of all, I'm totally with you on the "believing in health" front. I eat well, focusing on a good balance of fruits and vegetables, healthy carbs and protein. I buy collagen powder sourced from grass-fed cows and eat as much organic produce as we can afford. I exercise six days a week, a mix of HIIT and pilates and strength training and yoga. I take vitamins, including a focus on Vitamin D and Zinc during the pandemic. I'm conscious of my stress levels, which is part of why I exercise. I also practice meditation and make sure I get outdoors for sunshine and fresh air.

I believe in a natural, holistic approach to health. I believe in keeping my body's systems and functions in tip-top shape.

I also believe that in no way conflicts with getting the COVID vaccine.


Keeping our immune systems strong is important. But even a robust immune system isn't foolproof. That's why we see a small but real percentage of young and healthy people die from the flu every year, and why we've seen young and healthy people die from COVID. While rare, having a strong immune system can actually backfire on a healthy person, revving up so much that it creates a "cytokine storm" where the immune system starts attacking things it shouldn't.

And this particular coronavirus appears quite adept at deranging people's immune systems. It's not as simple as "strong immune system = successfully fighting off the virus." Maintaining our body systems is important, but COVID infection isn't a result of weakened bodily systems. It's a foreign invader.

Part of a holistic approach to health is utilizing modern medicine when it makes sense. We've seen 545,000 Americans die from COVID and millions more sickened by it. Some have ongoing health problems from the infection. These are known risks, and there's still a lot that we don't know about the long-term effects. While COVID vaccines are new, the risks are statistically far, far lower than with the virus.

Think of it this way: The COVID vaccine is like a personal trainer for your immune system, prepping it for a specific event. If you're preparing to compete in a decathlon, you could exercise and eat well and hope your general being-in-shape will suffice, but you probably won't do all that well. You might be incredibly strong or have great endurance, but to actually be competitive in a decathlon, you need to prepare and train and hone your strength and skills for those 10 specific events. That's what the vaccine does. It trains and preps your immune system specifically for a COVID competition.

Therefore, I see no conflict whatsoever between keeping your body healthy and getting the COVID vaccine.

If you disagree, that's your prerogative, but what you're doing isn't just about you. I'm all for people having the autonomy to make their own choices, but encouraging people not to get the vaccine is a ludicrous move. Not only does it not make sense on a personal level for the reasons I just laid out, but it's grossly irresponsible on a societal level. (Especially considering the hotbeds of infection gyms and fitness classes can be.)

Vaccinations aren't just about an individual's protection, but about stopping the spread so the virus won't keep mutating in deadlier ways and keep infecting people who are genuinely at high risk. A pandemic is a group event, literally. Imagine being on a sports team and deciding that you don't need to train with your teammates because you feel like you've already got your position covered. Only in this case, the team sport has long-term disease and death as potential consequences of losing. Doesn't that seem like a terrible attitude?

One last point: If optimal health is as important to you as it is to me, I question why you would risk it on a virus that we know can result in ongoing health problems, even for people with mild symptoms. More and more evidence shows that long-haul COVID patients often have initially mild cases of the disease, but are still dealing with various symptoms months after their infection. Two common long-haul symptoms are breathlessness and fatigue—which would certainly make trying to work out a real drag, if not impossible. Doctors still don't know why that's happening, but even if you survive and don't get severely ill, you still could be impacting your health by catching the virus.

It seems pretty clear that being a model of health would include getting the vaccine that trains your body to fight the virus that could damage your health. Yes, absolutely keep those bodily systems in good shape and take care of your overall health, but to rely on that to fight the virus is like heading into a decathlon with no training. It simply doesn't make sense.

Sincerely,

Someone who eats well, exercises, takes my vitamins, and thinks you're dead wrong

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When it came time for Islesboro Central School's Class of 2021 to pick the destination for their senior class trip, the students began eyeing a trip to Greece or maybe even South Korea. But in the end, they decided to donate $5,000 they'd raised for the trip to help out their community members struggling in the wake of the pandemic instead.

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