People are antsy to get back to their normal exercise routines. But, with another recent spike in COVID-19, many people are left wondering how risky going to a gym is.
Health experts say the key to protecting yourself comes down to four things: masking, physical distancing, handwashing — and whenever possible, taking your workout outdoors.
Here’s what to know if you’re thinking about going back to the gym:
One of the main concerns health experts have about COVID-19 is how readily it can spread through the air via respiratory droplets, especially in confined spaces.
For an early release report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers looked at a confirmed case of COVID-19 and eventually traced consecutive confirmed cases back to a nationwide fitness dance class.
Ultimately, the research team found 112 COVID-19 cases linked to dance workout classes across 12 different facilities.
According to the researchers, the moist, warm air combined with turbulent air flow from exercising may create an environment in which droplets can spread readily.
Based on recent research, aerosolized droplets can remain airborne for up to 3 hours, making the potential for spread in crowded and confined spaces such as fitness studios problematic.
The size and intensity of the class can also impact transmission.
According to the study, transmission was detected in fitness classes that were about 50 minutes long, were held in a studio measuring around 645 square feet, and included anywhere from 5 to 22 people.
People breathe harder when they work out, which is the prime way the virus spreads from person to person. When people breathe more rapidly and more deeply, they expel greater numbers of droplets.
Keep in mind that even if people who have COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, they can still spread the disease.
People are most infectious the day before, day of, and a couple of days after developing symptoms. They can even transmit the virus several days before symptoms appear.
If a person is asymptomatic or presymptomatic, they can expel viral particles into the air through droplets that can become aerosolized.
This increases the potential of transmission among people in hot and crowded fitness studios with poor air circulation.
The most effective solution is to take your workout outside.
The risk for contracting the coronavirus outdoors is lower than contracting it inside because coronavirus particles can disperse more quickly outside.
When working out outside, people should still stay 6 feet away from others, bring their own equipment, and limit the number of people in the group.
Remember, just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you can’t get sick — it just means you have a lower chance of being exposed to viruses in the air.
If your heart is set on going to the gym, make a plan.
Look at local transmission in your area (more outbreaks could mean you have a higher risk) and what local health authorities are saying about community spread.
Consider your own underlying health conditions and age, and whether it’s safe for you to be in confined spaces with others.
Each person needs to really assess their own risk, and then assess the risk of that situation to determine whether that level of risk is acceptable to themselves.
At the gym, practice good hand hygiene, bring your own equipment when possible, and disinfect any communal weights or mats you may use.
You may also want to consider wearing a mask while exercising.
Though this can be tricky with high intensity workouts, masking will ultimately help us share space again.
Physical distancing can cut your risk of developing COVID-19, too.
Until there’s a readily available vaccine, we shouldn’t let our guards down at the gym just yet.