If you’ve gotten the COVID vaccine, you’re likely navigating what activities are safe to try now that you have an extra level of protection against the virus. And one activity certainly tops the list for many who’ve spent the last year cooped up at home: exercise. So, is it safe to go to the gym when you’re vaccinated?
Short answer? Probably, but with important considerations like mask-wearing and whether or not other members of your household are fully vaccinated. Widespread public safety depends on having the majority of people vaccinated, so until that happens, precautions are still necessary. For reference, more than 62 million Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose as of early March, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and that’s just under 10% of the population.
While there is evidence to suggest that being fully vaccinated helps prevent the disease from spreading, it’s still possible to pass the virus to non-vaccinated folks who could go on to have a deadly case of COVID. “If you're vaccinated, likely the worst thing that could happen to you is you get a cold,” says Dr. Emily Landon, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and head of COVID infection control and prevention at the University of Chicago. “But if you have regular close contact with people who are unvaccinated, you need to take more precautions because what would just be a cold for you could be something really dangerous for them.”
In other words, there’s still a gray area about how safe it is to venture into public while only some people have gotten the shots. Below, doctors give their opinions about your risk level in different fitness spaces once you’re fully vaccinated.
Is It Safe To Go To The Gym When Vaccinated?
When it comes to hitting the gym post-vaccine, the usual COVID considerations still apply, says Dr. Maggie Collison, M.D., an infectious disease doctor at the University of Chicago. She recommends weighing the following as you decide whether or not to head back to the gym: masking, ventilation, and length of time spent indoors. A crowded gym where nobody is wearing a mask is risky even if you’ve had the vaccine, whereas a gym that requires masking and limits how many people are inside is a better choice. A large, open space (bonus points if doors and windows are open) is better than a small, enclosed room.
COVID spreads mainly through respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing, talking, and — you guessed it — breathing heavily, so being around people while they pant on the elliptical isn’t exactly ideal. That said, you can lower your exposure by keeping distance and limiting time at the gym. Spend 20 minutes on the weight machines but then do your jog outside, suggests Collison.
The takeaway? If you’re fully vaccinated and live alone or in a household with other fully vaccinated people, going to the gym is fairly safe as long as you and the other gym-goers are wearing masks and distancing, according to Collison. But if other members of your household aren’t vaccinated yet, beware that going into public spaces like a gym increases your risk of encountering the virus and potentially bringing it home to your less-protected loved ones.
Is It Safe To Go To The Fitness Room In Your Apartment Building?
Your risk of getting COVID in your residence’s fitness center is much, much lower once you’re vaccinated, says Landon. But again, you need to consider the possibility that you could still spread the virus to unvaccinated loved ones.
Think about your fitness center like a mini version of a gym: If the room is small and poorly ventilated, Landon recommends steering clear unless it’s empty. Keep your mask on if there are other people in the room and open doors and windows if possible, she adds. If the room becomes too crowded or someone takes off their mask, you can always leave.
Is It Safe To Go To A Workout Class?
Once again, it depends. Like your building’s fitness center, the size and ventilation of the studio space counts. Large rooms with open doors or windows is preferable to closed, heated spaces. And be wary of fans, cautions Landon. While they give the illusion of good ventilation, they can actually blow COVID into farther reaches of the room.
The type of exercise matters too, she says. A spin or HIIT class will make you breathe hard, thereby increasing the chances that COVID droplets make their way into the air. Higher-impact activities can also shake your mask loose and increase the odds that droplets escape. In contrast, a gentle yoga class likely won’t leave you panting. Also, keeping six feet or more space between you and other exercisers is important even if you’re vaccinated, according to Landon.
The bottom line? If class sizes are limited, masks are required, there’s good ventilation, and the type of activity doesn’t cause heavy breathing, you should be OK, says Collison. However, getting your sweat on outside of studio walls in the open gym area is a safer choice. And remember that this is not an all-or-nothing decision, says Dr. Erika Schwartz, M.D., a New York-based internist who specializes in disease prevention. If you want to reduce your COVID risk or are just plain nervous about re-entering society, take it slow: Try a class here and there at a studio with appropriate COVID precautions.
Is It Safe To Swim?
If swimming laps is your thing, good news: If you’re fully vaccinated, Landon says this is relatively safe. Outdoor pools are ideal, but large, open indoor spaces are also fine as long as you’re staying in your lane and not closely interacting with other swimmers. Chlorine will help reduce the odds of COVID transmission while you’re in the water, she says, otherwise wear your mask once you get out of the pool.
Is It Safe To Exercise Outdoors?
As always, exercising outdoors is the safest option whether or not you’re vaccinated, says Landon. Outdoor exercise provides ample distance and ventilation, so if you have any doubts about going back to the gym or if you regularly interact with unvaccinated folks, this is your best bet — at least, until everyone’s vaccinated.
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Dr. Maggie Collison, MD, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Chicago
Dr. Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease specialist and head of COVID infection control and prevention at the University of Chicago
Dr. Erika Schwartz, MD, a New York-based internist who specializes in disease prevention