It’s been drilled into you a zillion times: There are scientifically proven benefits of exercising regularly. Among other things, it can help reduce anxiety and boost your mood — things we all could really use during the age of the novel coronavirus.
“We know about the mental and physical benefits of exercise for the brain, and that it aids with sleep,” says Dr Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “When people are ruminating about something, exercise helps.”
That said, health experts keep talking about the importance of social distancing right now to help lower the odds that you’ll contract the novel coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19. That raises a huge question: Is it safe to go to the gym right now?
If you belong to a gym, you’ve probably gotten an email from someone there about the special precautions they’re taking to keep you and other members safe.
Look: This is a really weird time and we’re in uncharted territory here. But experts stress that, while tempting, holing up in your home and staying there isn’t the way to handle this. And, if you want to go to the gym, you should — just use caution.
“I think going to the gym is okay,” says Dr Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York. “You have to live your life.” Dr Suzanne Willard, associate dean of Global Health at the Rutgers University School of Nursing, agrees. “As long as it’s clean and you take certain precautions, you should be fine,” she says.
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Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, and experts say you’ll probably want to alter your standard gym routine a little. (For starters, obviously do not hit the gym if you feel sick!) Keep these things in mind before you head to your next workout.
You’re probably okay if you use the weight room.
Yes, people are constantly touching weights and other objects there and you are, too. But there are a few ways to make this situation pretty safe for you:
- Wash your hands well with soap and water before and after you work out. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means lathering up for at least 20 seconds, i.e. the amount of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- Wipe down equipment before and after you use it. Gyms usually have disinfectant wipes located throughout the space — and if not, you can always bring your own. “Use them,” Dr Willard says.
- Keep your distance from people. Social distancing is important for preventing the spread of COVID-19, Dr Fernando points out. So, if you don’t need to be on top of the person next to you while you’re pumping iron, don’t.
- Stay away from anyone who appears to be sick. Same deal as above. Coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets that you can then breathe in or get in your nose, mouth, or eyes. Those droplets are thought to be able to travel up to 2 metres, the CDC says. So, ideally, you want to keep at least that much distance between you and someone who is coughing and/or sneezing.
Maybe rethink group fitness classes for now.
“It’s a good idea to avoid group classes at the gym,” Dr Fernando says. Why? People are usually in close proximity during group classes (generally less than 2 metres apart) and that makes it really easy for COVID-19 to spread if the person on the indoor bike next to you happens to be infected and is coughing or sneezing.
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There’s no evidence right now that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through sweat but, again, if you’re packed into a class with plenty of other people, there’s the whole coughing/sneezing thing to consider.
Instead, consider sweating outside now that the weather is getting better, try one of many indoor workouts you can do at home.
Swimming is probably okay.
But again, it depends on a few factors, including how crowded your local pool is. Some places have people share lanes and, if you’re regularly coming face to face with a fellow lane swimmer during laps, it could present a less-than-ideal situation.
Also, plenty of pool water gets into other people’s noses and mouths during swimming and comes back out into the water you’re swimming in, where it can also travel into your nose and mouth. That’s worth considering.
There’s been some debate online about whether chlorine kills coronavirus, but it’s unclear at this point. “We don’t have that information yet, but there a lot of chlorine in those pools,” Willard says.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) recently posted on their website that chlorine “can be useful to disinfect surfaces” but it needs “to be used under appropriate recommendations.” However, they stopped short of saying that chlorine can actually kill COVID-19.
If you’re thinking of hopping into your community or gym pool, Dr Willard recommends paying attention to local health alerts. “If I know in my community that there are several cases of novel coronavirus, I’m not going to the gym pool,” she says. “You’ve got to be smart about it.”
Again, it’s understandable that you might be freaked out about the novel coronavirus these days, but experts stress that you don’t need to avoid the gym entirely. Just pay attention to local health alerts and do your best to follow good prevention steps. And wash your hands — please.