Coronavirus Fears At The Gym Aren’t A Reason To Avoid Working Out, A Doctor Explains

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This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

Gyms are full of sweat, heavy breathing, and lots of people touching the same equipment over and over again. Generally, you might not be too concerned about germs during your morning elliptical, but you've started to get a bit nervous about coronavirus exposure at the gym.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people are at low risk of catching coronavirus, and those who do may only present moderate symptoms (coughing, fever, and shortness of breath). However, just like during flu season, it doesn't hurt to be a little extra vigilant.

"Respiratory infections are often spread by touching a surface with the virus on it, and then touching our mouth or eyes," says Dr. Michael Richardson, MD, a family medicine doctor with One Medical. While it might be easy to say well I don't touch my mouth or eyes at the gym, think again of all those times you wipe sweat from your face or mouth with the back of your wrist. (Maybe that's just me, but I doubt it.)

As anxiety about coronavirus sweeps the world, it's understandable if the idea of sweating up a storm in a room full of people who are themselves sweating up a storm isn't the most appealing thing. Plus, as cities and states move to enforce social distancing practices, gyms are starting to close to avoid encouraging gatherings of people. Now is a great time to start a free trial of that at-home workout app your BFF is always raving about.

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How To Practice Social Distancing When You're Working Out

During this phase of the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC has recommended individuals practice social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus and help "flatten the curve," or avoid overloading our healthcare system.

“The idea is to limit your movement outside with other people to what's truly essential,” Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, WebMD’s Senior Medical Director, previously told Bustle.

If you absolutely can't avoid going to your gym to work out, try going at off hours (so not immediately after business hours or first thing in the morning). If you can avoid your gym, try exercising at home or going for a run during times where you're unlikely to bump into many people on the street. Maintain a distance of at least six feet from others to avoid spreading respiratory droplets.

How To Disinfect Your Workout Equipment During The Coronavirus Outbreak

"Since we are often wiping sweat from our face while at the gym, be sure that you are [cleaning] the equipment you’re touching before using it," Dr. Richardson says.

In addition to spraying and wiping down your equipment both before and after use with alcohol or bleach-based disinfectant, you'll also want to make sure you're washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; wash your water bottles daily with dish soap; and if you're going to wipe sweat from your face or mouth, make sure you use a clean towel.

What Gyms & Workout Studios Are Doing To Protect Against Coronavirus

If you've gone to a new workout studio in the last five years, chances are good that you're receiving emails from them about what they're doing to keep their spaces especially hygienic right now. Equinox sent its members a notice that they're disinfecting club areas three times a day, up from at the end of every day. 305 Fitness sent its listserv a note to say they'll "be extra flexible in returning class credits and waiving late cancellation/no-show fees" if you're not feeling well, and recommends "booty bumps" over high fives. Y7 Studio, which offers infrared yoga, also advised notifying instructors if you'd prefer not to have hands-on adjustments during class.

How To Work Out At Home During The Coronavirus Outbreak

You may be feeling fine physically, but still nervous about spending time at the gym. This might be especially true if you know someone who's immunocompromised, or especially at risk of developing complications from COVID-19. It's also valid if you don't want to run the risk for yourself. In that case, Dr. Richardson suggests going for a run or working out at home using YouTube fitness videos. A million different apps are also offering free trials during this time, so you can try out different kinds of workouts at home.

How To Clean Yoga Mats & Blocks While You're Working Out At Home

You may not have a full set of weights or a treadmill at home, but you if you have a yoga mat or blocks, you can get a ton of great workouts in. However, you need to be cleaning these (very porous!) surfaces regularly.

Paul Javid, CEO of Alo Moves, an on-demand fitness, meditation, and yoga app, recommends using a cleaner made with at least 70% alcohol to sanitize your yoga mat and blocks during the coronavirus outbreak. "While this typically is not recommended for the durability of your yoga mats, to protect against COVID 19, we recommend this extra precaution," he adds. To get rid of that clinical smell, you can wipe down your mat with a soft cloth and a mild detergent (just regular soap and water is fine), or soak it in your bathtub in a solution of soap and water. Then, hang it up to dry. "For extra precaution, we recommend repeating these steps every two weeks to keep your yoga mat clean, especially if you plan on using your mat daily," Javid says.

Taking a break from working out is also more than OK, especially if you're not feeling well. Your body needs time to rest and recover. "It's also incredibly considerate to other gym goers if you rest or switch to a home routine when you are sick," Dr. Richardson says. "You can feel good about getting a strong sweat in while also protecting the health of your fellow fit friends at the gym."


Dr. Michael Richardson, a family medicine doctor with One Medical

Dr. Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, WebMD’s Senior Medical Director

Paul Javid, CEO of Alo Moves, an on-demand fitness, meditation, and yoga app

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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