Will Climate Change Affect Exercise and Sport?

Global catastrophes are usually well sign-posted in movies. Massive alien ships are suddenly hovering over the White House. Ancient super...

Global catastrophes are usually well sign-posted in movies. Massive alien ships are suddenly hovering over the White House. Ancient super volcanos are belching sulphur next door to luxury ski resorts. Linda opens her curtains to see zombie hoards staggering over her hydrangeas and chewing through her neighbourhood.

One of the benefits of watching this kind of thing on TV or at the movies (aside from the fact that it's fictional) is that when big and nasty things like that start happening, people react.

Climate change isn't as dramatic as an alien invasion or instantaneous as the dead rising, but it's undoubtedly as serious. One UN expert described it as 'the greatest threat the world has ever faced.' 

The problem is that climate change isn't a single issue. It's a vastly complicated and nuanced subject, and it doesn't affect all countries equally. For most of us in the UK, climate change feels like something happening to other people in other places.

In an article by the Harvard Business Review, author Art Markham asked why people aren't motivated to address climate change. He uses an interesting example, writing that typically your instinct is to jump back when you see a bus bearing down on you. You see the danger. You react. But this isn't happening with climate change.

Predictions of post-apocalyptic wastelands and worst-case scenarios aren't resonating with people. Most of us are too desensitised now, so let's look at the impact of climate change on something closer to home – sports and fitness.

Last year, we wrote on LinkedIn about how climate change could change how we drink coffee. Given that UK café culture is worth around £5.9 billion, it's a sobering account of what's happening to one of the nation's favourite drinks, and it's not just coffee, either. Climate change could also change how we watch, enjoy and participate in sports.

Extreme Temperatures Make It Harder to Exercise

One study found that people exercise less in very hot or cold weather because they're far more likely to stay indoors than work out. Obese and older adults were also found to be far less likely to be physically active during periods of hot weather. Anything that creates a barrier to exercise is worrying, especially as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 3 men worldwide currently don't get enough exercise. This alone contributes to up to 5 million premature (and preventable) deaths each year.

And ‘record-breaking summer temperatures’ in the UK are set to become far 'more commonplace in the next 30 years.'  And this is before we even consider an additional 38,000 deaths a year due to heat stress relating to climate change.   

According to experts at the Climate Impact Lab, it isn't only everyday gym users who'll suffer, either. Professional athletes will also feel the impact of higher temperatures. Marathon runners record faster times when outdoor temperatures are around 10 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures will make it much harder for athletes to push the limits of human performance and endurance. Climate change could impact the finishing time of future athletes.  

Higher temperatures are also likely to disrupt the footballing world. By 2050, the average football player will 'experience 50% more hot days than they currently do'. And like professional athletes, the heat will affect their performance. Extreme heat poses a health risk, and matches are likely to be postponed, rescheduled or cancelled, causing significant disruption to the sporting calendar. There’s already a precedent for moving tournaments. FIFA moved the 2022 World Cup from June to November to account for the very high temperatures experienced in the host nation, Qatar.

Rain Stops Play 

Rising global temperatures will also bring higher rainfall, which could wreak havoc on sporting schedules. According to the BBC, one in four English football grounds will flood annually by 2050. Given how tightly packed the English football season is, you can easily imagine the chaos.  

Poor Air Quality Affects Health 

Just when you thought it was safe to go back outdoors, exercising in urban areas can be bad for us. We breathe more deeply through our mouths during exercise. Unlike inside our noses, however, there’s no filter for ‘airborne pollution particles’ in our mouths. This means whatever nasties are hanging around in the air won’t be filtered out, which can pose a risk to people with respiratory illnesses or diseases. Runners and cyclists will be especially vulnerable to this. Poor air quality could become another barrier to regular exercise, especially for those concerned about pollution's impact on health and those who can’t or don’t wish to pay for gym memberships to exercise indoors.  

Climate Change Will Change Winter Sports 

The Montreal Gazette writes that warmer winters will affect outdoor sports in Canada. By 2090 the outdoor skating season in Montreal and Ottawa will be between 24 and 75 per cent shorter. One study by the University of Waterloo also states that of the twenty-one cities to have hosted the Winter Olympics previously, only eight could 'reliably host the Games by the end of this century'.  

And, of course, winter sports aren't only for athletes. In cold-weather countries, they're enjoyed by plenty of people as part of a healthy outdoor lifestyle. If there’s not enough snow or ice, it will limit access to outdoor activities.  

Climate Change Will Change Customer Habits 

Clients and customers are now more discerning about where they spend their money, and the fitness industry is no exception. Companies will have to become eco-friendlier and more sustainable, and we’re already seeing millennials and Gen-Z putting their money where their values are. Energym’s electricity-generating indoor bikes capture and convert human power to help gyms reduce their energy bills, but they also help gyms reduce their carbon footprint. Becoming more sustainable is one-way gyms, studios, and fitness centres can attract more eco-conscious clients and customers. And it's happening across the fitness industry. There are trends towards sustainable clothing and equipment. It's why you can also buy the electricity-generating RE:GEN for the home too.

But What About a Slight Temperature Increase?  

It’s worth mentioning that while many people are less likely to exercise in hot weather, a slight increase in temperature could have the opposite effect. It could make people more likely to exercise, mainly because people often report feeling happier and more motivated when it’s warmer outside. One study, reported by Tech Times, calls it 'a small little tiny silver lining amid a series of very bad, very unfortunate events that are likely to occur'. 

Of course, that’s accounting for a slight temperature increase, something which would require action now to maintain. Current predictions are that the world is on track for a 2.7-degree increase in temperature above pre-industrial levels. This is hardly an ideal scenario, especially when the initial target set by the Paris Agreement was for a rise of preferably no more than 1.5 degrees.  

Climate change’s impact on sport and fitness may seem inconsequential compared to its current and predicted impact on human, animal and plant life, but it does show how far-reaching the consequences could eventually be. It could change how we exercise and enjoy sporting events and occasions.

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