Is It Safe To Go To The Gym To Work Out During The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic?

Its 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 moodthings we all could really use during the age of the novel coronavirus .

Is The Gym Safe Amidst COVID-19?

We know about the mental and physical benefits of exercise for the brain, and that it aids with sleep, says Jordan Metzl, MD, 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 youll 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, youve probably gotten an email from someone there about the special precautions theyre taking to keep you and other members safe. The YMCA of Greater New York, for example, released a statement to WomensHealthMag.com noting they've "significantly increased" how often they clean high-traffic and high-touch items like door knobs, exercise equipment, locker rooms, phones, banisters, tabletops, and handrails. They're also making sure that disinfectant wipes are available for all YMCA equipment.

Look: This is a really weird time and were in uncharted territory here. But experts stress that, while tempting, holing up in your home and staying there isnt the way to handle this. And, if you want to go to the gym, you shouldjust use caution.

I think going to the gym is okay, says Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, New York. You have to live your life. Suzanne Willard, PhD, associate dean of Global Health at the Rutgers University School of Nursing, agrees. As long as its clean and you take certain precautions, you should be fine, she says.

Of course, theres a little more to it than that, and experts say youll 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.

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 spaceand 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 dont need to be on top of the person next to you while youre pumping iron, dont.
  • 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 six feet, the CDC says. So, ideally, you want to keep at least that much distance between you and someone who is coughing and/or sneezing.

Its 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 six feet 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.

Theres no evidence right now that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through sweat but, again, if youre packed into a class with plenty of other people, theres the whole coughing/sneezing thing to consider.

Instead, consider sweating outside now that the weather is getting better, try one of Women's Health's many indoor workouts you can do at home, or stream a workout from our All Out Studio app .

But again, it depends on a few factors, including how crowded your local pool is. Some places have people share lanes and, if youre 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 peoples noses and mouths during swimming and comes back out into the water youre swimming in, where it can also travel into your nose and mouth. That's worth considering.

Theres been some debate online about whether chlorine kills coronavirus, but its unclear at this point. We dont have that information yet, but there is a lot of chlorine in those pools, Willard says.

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 pool, Dr. Willard recommends paying attention to local health alerts. If I know in my community that there are several cases of novel coronavirus, Im not going to the gym or pool, she says. Youve got to be smart about it.

Again, its understandable that you might be freaked out about the novel coronavirus these days, but experts stress that you dont 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.

JOIN OUR PULSE COMMUNITY!

Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or:

Email: eyewitness@pulse.com.gh