(KRON) – If you’ve been working out at home for the last couple of months, you may be happy to learn your gym will be reopening its doors soon. Are you eager to go back to the gym and put away all the home exercise equipment?
If so, is it safe to go back to weight rooms, cardio machines, and fitness classes? Our health expert, Karen Owoc, is here to help us decide.
Is It Safe to Go Back?
- Going back to the gym will be riskier than staying home, but staying home and being a “COVID potato” carries its share of risk too.
Can You Get COVID-19 from Sweat?
- You cannot get the COVID-19 from sweat alone, but sweat can pick up mucus from the nose that contains the virus. Exercise can trigger a runny nose.
- 27-74% of athlete have “exercise-induced rhinitis” or “runner’s rhinitis”, that is, their nose runs when exercising.
- One cause of this type of rhinitis could be due to an increased exposure to environmental irritants from increased respiration.
- Other bacteria, fungi, and viruses that cause skin infections thrive in sweat, particularly warm, moist areas.
- Sweat gets left behind on exercise equipment, mats, machines, handrails, towels, saunas, showers, swimming pool decks, locker room benches, toilet/door handles.
Indoor Air Quality (Move Inside Air Out)
- When you’re exercising, you and the people around you will be breathing hard. That means more respiratory droplets will be expelled into the air.
- If you’re working out near someone who’s not wearing a mask, it’s likely you could be inhaling whatever he or she is expelling.
- In general, experts believe colds are more common in the winter because more time is spent indoors around other people.
- Some fitness studios are moving their cardio equipment outdoors. Respiratory droplets disperse rapidly outside, so the viral load is low.
- Gyms should be well-ventilated with a system that refreshes indoor air with filtered air coming in from the outside.
- If there is no air filtering system, the gym should have adequate cross ventilation (wide open doors/windows on opposite walls) to disperse the respiratory droplets and move inside air out. Droplets can linger and stay inside small, enclosed spaces.
Stay Away from Other Exercisers
- A gym is an exercise environment where there’s a lot of heavy breathing (cardiorespiratory exercise) and forced expirations (strength training).
- In a relatively high density environment, social distancing in a gym is particularly essential. Treadmills, ellipticals, rowers, bicycles should be moved farther apart or taped off.
Mask or No Mask
- Masks make sense in a gym, BUT wearing one while exercising also means masks will get wet.
- Wet masks reduce their anti-microbial effect.
Disinfect Your Own Equipment
- First, wash your hands before entering the gym. Signing in at the gym should be touch-less with gym employees wearing a mask or standing behind sneeze guards.
- Per a previous KRON4 health segment on “Germs You Get from Gyms” (Sept 2018), athletic are breeding grounds for a host of germs: bacteria, flu virus, and other pathogens.
- Gyms should be stocked with disinfectant spray and towels or with EPA-approved bleach wipes.
- Clean the equipment (weights, bars, benches, machine rails, knobs, seats, etc.) BEFORE and AFTER use. Don’t depend on the person who used it before you to do a thorough cleaning.
- Cleaning exercise equipment is tricky. There are so many touch points and people hold the equipment differently (e.g., free weights).
- When spraying a disinfectant, you have to let it sit for a minute or so to kill the germs BEFORE wiping. (Clean any grime or dust off first.) So, plan on spending more time in the gym!
- Disinfectants should be washed off and not stay on your hands.
Other Smart Ways to Stay Safe
- Drape two towels over your shoulder. Keep one for wiping sweat from your hands and face.
- Use the other towel for covering the weight bench or yoga mat. Use a towel where you can distinguish the top side from the bottom, so you don’t lay on the ‘contaminated’ side.
- Don’t touch your face. Use your towel.
- Bring your own water bottle, so you don’t drink out of the water fountain.
- Balance the benefits of exercise against the risks of infection.
The Takeaway: The risk at the gym will never be zero. Find out how fastidious the gym is about disinfecting equipment and facility, wearing masks/gloves, and enforcing social distancing, then weigh the risks of virus transmission against the health benefits of exercise and your underlying health condition.
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