IT used to catch me out every Wednesday morning without fail. The number of spaces in the car park, no queue at the desk, the lack of early hubbub in the café, plentiful changing rooms and spare lockers, and almost every shower available for a quick pre-dip rinse.

All the signs pointed towards the swimming pool being nice and quiet for a change. And then, as you plodded towards the water itself, the vista would quickly inform you otherwise.

People! People everywhere! Whether ploughing up and down the lanes, or swimming freely in the uncontained shallower areas, it was always a heaving mass of bodies, all trying eagerly to get or maintain some semblance of fitness. You never saw them arrive or leave but they were always there.

As well as the loafing self-employed, mornings were clearly a popular time with senior citizens. Pensioner soup they call it. And so you would pick the lane that looked least inhabited and try to weave in and out of the traffic - like a Tour de France rider manoeuvring through the peloton - in a bid to clock up enough lengths to justify the post-swim coffee and cake.

Over in the smaller pool there would usually be another form of exercise taking place, the energetic instructor standing at the edge bellowing out instructions while those in the water bobbed up and down and tried to emulate each move.

Thursdays were usually football. Or at least a form of it. A pick-up game – as the Americans call it – where people of varying ages, fitness and ability levels would congregate each week and run around for a while colliding into each other. Sometimes we even used a ball.

Usually it was seven or eight-a-side but at its most popular it became an almost unwieldy 11-a-side. When the weather was bad, it sometimes dropped to four or five-a-side. At which point the goals were usually brought in to save the legs a bit.

The standard was, well, mixed, to put it politely. The sort of game you would expect if the cast from Police Academy reformed for a kick-about. There were guys in their teens or 20s who, somewhat unfairly, could run around for an hour without requiring an oxygen tank afterwards.

There were old boys in their 60s who could clearly play a bit when they were younger and knew how to use their wiles. And their elbows too. And then the middle ground of 40-somethings, mostly just happy to get away from their kids for a while. All played for their own reasons but all gained the same sense of satisfaction from just kicking a ball. And stewed about missed chances all the way home and for the rest of that evening.

Those swimmers and footballers are still waiting to get back to that. It may not be elite level sporting performance but it evidently matters just as much to those involved.

On a basic health level, those early-morning swims and weekly seven-a-sides are hugely significant to a nation’s well-being. At a time when we are trying to reduce the burden on the NHS, these are the rituals that hopefully help stave off illness and obesity as we move into middle age and then later life.

And don’t underestimate the supplementary mental health benefits, either. You only have to spot the crowd catching up in the café for a brew and a natter after their swim or water aerobics to realise how much that means. The camaraderie after the football match often provides as much of an endorphin high as the action itself.

For the elderly, in particular, where loneliness and isolation can be huge issues for many, just catching up with people for a few hours serves as a restorative tonic. You can’t bottle that and put it on a prescription.

For almost five months now, swimming and indoor recreational football have been off the agenda. In the early days of the virus that was completely understandable.

But now, as lockdown starts to ease throughout Scotland, it doesn’t seem right that these pursuits still remain off limits. You wonder how all the swimmers, footballers and gym-goers are coping without it. And hope their physical and mental health haven’t suffered as a result.

The latest government announcement decreed that none of these indoor sporting facilities can open again at least until September 14. And you don’t have to be a gym obsessive to think that feels draconian.

Yes, there are particular challenges that need to be met in terms of social distancing, ensuring changing facilities and shower areas are suitable, that the pensioner soup is a bit more spread out than before.

But it is still got to be better – and healthier – than having pubs open, a state of affairs that stinks of double standards motivated more by money than science. Good luck telling someone who’s had six pints not to get too close to other drinkers. And for those packed in to watch football games on TV, not to jump about or shout if their team scores a goal.

For now, the swimming pools and football pitches remain empty for another six weeks at least while the pubs continue to fill up. That doesn’t seem right. For a nation’s health and sanity we need them back open again soon.