From virtual workouts to outdoor activities, many of us found different ways to stay active when gyms were initially closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now that some gyms are open again, should you go?
"Regardless of what the activity is, the gym in of itself, no matter the gym, is going to be a high-risk area to go to," says Dr. Joyce Sanchez, an infectious disease specialist at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Even under stricter sanitation protocols that many gyms are implementing as they reopen, Sanchez notes there's no definitive answer to whether these measures can make the gym completely safe. First, she says we must understand the factors that drive transmission and impact the risk of getting and transmitting COVID-19:
- Time: The less time you're in an area with others, the better.
- Space: Keep at least 6 feet apart, but even more space is preferred if possible.
- People: The fewer people in an area, the less risk there is.
- Place: Indoor spaces are going to be higher risk than outdoor activities. Air ventilation, humidity, temperature and the type of disinfection of surfaces are also factors that can increase or mitigate the risk of spreading or contracting the coronavirus.
"Those are all things that gyms can address, but if we take all four factors into consideration, we can say without any question that not going to the gym is safer from a COVID-19 risk standpoint than going to the gym," says Sanchez.
Making a facility risk-free is not a realistic expectation short of having your own private gym or using your gym's services virtually, says Sanchez. But there are things that gyms and gym-goers can do to lower the risk.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping 6 feet between people, exercise causes us to breathe harder so particles can go beyond 6 feet, notes Sanchez. While there are no widespread protocols specifically for gyms, Sanchez reinforces that the greater distance you can put between yourself and another person is best.
More practices gym goers can do to decrease the risk of spreading the coronavirus:
- Wear a mask: "You're at least cutting off that trail of droplets by many orders of magnitude," notes Sanchez. Studies have shown that wearing a mask does have a significant impact on decreasing the spread of the coronavirus, but mask use needs to be widespread to be more effective.
- Go to the gym during off-peak hours: To minimize contact with other gym members, go during less popular hours.
- Go outside: If an option, take group classes or personal training sessions outside or virtually.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, going to the gym wasn’t just a way to stay physically healthy. Gyms also offer people a sense of accountability and community. While Sanchez fully recognizes the many benefits of going to a gym, "the gym from my perspective is ... also a luxury," she says.
If you do plan on going to the gym, Sanchez recommends examining your risk factors:
- What are your own health risks?
- What is the risk of those you come into contact with?
- What is the state of the pandemic locally?
- What are the risks of your planned activity or exercise?
"Once you consider all those factors, everyone makes a choice," says Sanchez. "It's also important not to forget if you're not comfortable going to that gym any more after you go ... you can feel free to take your business [and exercise] elsewhere."
"I really wish I could say that this is a time where we've figured out how to make the risk low enough. Honestly, though, we're just not there yet," she says.