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How to safely go to the gym and reduce your risk of getting the coronavirus

glandsverk@businessinsider.com (GabLandsverk)
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Lifestyle: Good , sage advice for gym goers.
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Fitness equipment fills a gym at Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Fitness equipment fills a gym at Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Associated Press/Leo Correa

  • As some states ease lockdowns, gyms and fitness centers are re-opening to the public with additional precautions against coronavirus infection.
  • There’s a lot we still don’t know about the virus, so it’s not clear how gyms may have to adjust. Working out at the gym has unique risks like high-touch surfaces, heavy breathing, and crowds.
  • If and when you do decide to go back to the gym, here’s what to look out for to minimize your risk of infection.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some states are beginning to re-open for business — and that includes gyms, many of which are taking extra precautions to keep clients safer. In an environment with a lot of sweating and high-touch surfaces, it’s hard to eliminate the risks of possible contagion, and there’s a lot we don’t about what your trip to the gym might look like in the coming weeks and months.

For now, it’s important to understand the risks before you decide to go back. If you do, avoid high-touch surfaces and close contact with other people during your workout.

There’s still risk involved even if you’re careful

Any contact with other people is going to carry a risk of infection, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously told Insider. Whether you’re with a small group of friends or hitting the weight room alongside other fitness buffs, your relative safety will depend on how well other people have followed the rules and taken precautions.

“Every time you figuratively or literally open the door a little wider, there’s that risk,” Schaffner said. “You have to decide how much of that increased risk, however small, you’re willing to accept.”

There are risks to going to the gym. Some people, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, may be more vulnerable to infection. Others may not feel comfortable taking a chance. In either of those cases, it’s still possible to get a great workout at home.

Wipe down any equipment before and after using it, and limit your contact with surfaces

From dumbbells and barbells to cables and machines, gym equipment has always been gross. Many people touch those items, creating a hotbed of germs. That’s why it’s good practice to spray or sanitize equipment before and after use. Sanitizing is especially important right now, since high-touch surfaces can potentially harbor the coronavirus.

Gyms should provide sanitizing wipes and sprays for this purpose, but it’s never a bad idea to bring your own, especially if you want to make sure the wipes are EPA-recommended to kill the coronavirus and other germs.

As an added precaution, you can also limit the surfaces you touch by keeping your workouts short and avoiding common areas like locker rooms, as some gym-goers have done during the pandemic, since these are small, enclosed space where people touch objects frequently.

Ditching communal showers and limiting your time in the gym overall could also reduce your risk of coming into contact with other people or contaminated surfaces, both of which could potentially expose you to viral particles.

medical coronavirus virus flu sick cold hygiene hand sanitizer clorox hands wash gym workout fitness cox 1
medical coronavirus virus flu sick cold hygiene hand sanitizer clorox hands wash gym workout fitness cox 1

Crystal Cox/Business Insider

Avoid fitness classes or any small, enclosed spaces

Research suggests that group fitness classes may be among the riskiest activities at the gym right now. The warm, moist air that arises when multiple people sweat in a small space, combined with the air flow of aerobic movement, could make it easier to transmit viral particles.

In a recent study, one dance fitness workshop was linked to 112 cases of COVID-19 in South Korea after instructors at the workshop carried the virus back home and spread it through their own gyms. Those classes involved groups of five to 22 people, which could be above the safe limit for avoiding infection, the research suggests.

The same report also looked at small groups in yoga classes, and none of those participants were infected with the coronavirus. This suggests fewer people and slower movement may reduce the risks, according to the researchers.

And another option is taking group fitness classes outdoors, as gyms in Sweden have done, to reduce the added risks of the virus spreading in enclosed spaces.

Physical distancing is still crucial

Even if you’re working out in a large, open area of the gym, it’s still safest to create at least six feet of space between yourself and other people.

Wearing a mask could be helpful, but it won’t eliminate the need to keep your distance since sweaty exercise could cause your mask to become damp, potentially making it less effective.

To help accommodate this, national gym chain Life Time has implemented distancing measures by spacing out equipment like treadmills, showers, and lockers, and Planet Fitness has said it will do the same. Gold’s Gym is using a similar plan to reopen, but in phases, gradually introducing some features while limiting others, like group fitness, until a later date.

Overall, like anything else right now, the decision to go to the gym is a personal one, and while you can (and should) take precautions, it’s up to each person to weigh the risks and benefits for themselves.

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